Usherette Trays have a long history, much of it in the UK associated with theatres and cinemas with ice cream usherette trays.  Dating back to the 19th century, usherette trays/vendor trays have been used as a sales and promotions tool and a way for cinema and theatre-goers to buy products in intervals without having to leave the auditorium during performances, and on the way in and out of the building.

Products Sold From  Usherette Trays

The kinds of products traditionally sold from the trays included ice creams, nuts, chocolate, popcorn, sweets, and even cigarettes (smoking was allowed in cinemas) and other sweets for sale to customers during the interval. Cigarettes were also sold from the trays because smoking was allowed in cinemas, for example, until the 1990s and the UK’s smoking ban in enclosed public spaces finally prohibited it in 2007.


Usherettes were a feature of cinemas and theatres.  In smaller and independent cinemas, the usherette role, selling from the usherette tray at intervals, was one of many taken on by the few people who worked at that cinema in addition to acting as the cashier, checking tickets, showing customers to seats when the film has already started.

In larger cinema chains, usherettes, who were often women, also had uniforms.  Research from Eva Balogh (Portsmouth University) highlights how, back in the 1930s-1950s, being an usherette was a sought-after job because, unlike many other jobs available (to women) at the time it had links to the glamour of Hollywood, the silver screen, and the big movie stars of the day. Uniformed usherettes became part of creating the magic of an evening at the theatre, played a feature role in both British cinema consumption and identity, and helped customers to feel (along with the plush seats and surroundings) as though they were being treated like stars, all making a trip to the cinema or theatre a special event.  Usherettes themselves were smart, highly visible, and along with the film/play and the occasion, formed part of the evening’s entertainment and helped feed the aspiration and imagination of audiences.

Usher’s Own Seat

In the larger cinemas/cinema chains, usherettes remained in the auditorium, sometimes in a special seat e.g., end of an aisle or a pop-up seat at the back of the cinema/theatre.  This enabled them to be on hand to help new arrivals, deal with issues e.g., children misbehaving, and to be ready to move to the front with the usherette tray for the interval.

Evolution of Usherette Trays

Usherette trays/vendor trays are certainly no longer confined to just cinemas and theatres and have evolved into a marketing tool that can be completely customised.  Now able to reflect all manner of branding, innovative and eye-catching versions are used at all kinds of events, retail spaces and more. The combination of the tray, the person holding the tray, the visuals of the branding, the fact that it is a mobile promotional tool, pleasure/reward-seeking behaviour, and the attraction of the products still provide a level of interest, intrigue, contrast, and excitement that draws people towards anyone with an usherette tray thereby making them highly effective.