A sign from December 2021 at the Bengies Drive-in Theatre in Middle River carries a holiday message. Photo courtesy of Bengies Drive-in Theatre.

Limits on piercings, required documentation for absences related to emergencies, and the possibility of being “drafted” to work on days off were among the rules listed in the Bengies Drive-in Theatre’s employment policy, which the theater on Wednesday wiped from its website after receiving widespread criticism on social media.

On Monday, the Bengies Drive-in Theatre in Middle River posted on Facebook about multiple open positions, including a concession worker, box office cashier, ramp/field attendants, maintenance worker, and janitor.

The post linked to the theater’s website, which included job descriptions as well as the “conditions for employment policy.”

@Bengies Never patronizing you as long as you treat employees like this. pic.twitter.com/amiB1dyu1k

— jms (@malthusian_trap) February 16, 2022

Some of the rules for employees included:

  • Employees must give 17 days written notice, and get it approved by management, before taking time off from work.
  • Employees must be reachable by phone on short notice.
  • Employees are allowed to attend movies for free, but could be “drafted” to work if they are needed, according to the policy.
  • Employees are prohibited from having “body piercing adornments,” including wearing more than one earring in each ear. They must also cover tattoos, and “wild” hair colors may be deemed inappropriate.
  • Employees may not to wear Bengies attire in any Royal Farms store.

In 2010, Bengies’ owner D. Edward Vogel filed a lawsuit against Royal Farms, arguing that light pollution from a neighboring Royal Farms store negatively impacted his business.

A Baltimore County Circuit Court jury initially awarded the Bengies owner $838,000 as part of that lawsuit, but the ruling was later overturned in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Bengies did not respond to Baltimore Fishbowl’s request for comment.

Bengies’ management wrote on Facebook on Tuesday night that they realized the theater’s “conditions of employment are outdated” and “are working to revise them.”

“We want to thank all of our employees (past and present) and our patrons for their continued support,” the theater wrote in a comment on their Facebook post about the job openings. Later in the week, Vogel posted a lengthy Facebook message offering further justification for the policies.

The theater, which opened in 1956, is slated to begin its 67th season on March 4.

The job listings remain posted, but the theater has removed the employment policy document from its website. They also turned off the ability to make comments on the Facebook post that advertised the job openings, but past comments are still viewable.

“Wow and I thought my job asked a lot of me,” Facebook user Stacey Anne wrote. “To tell a teen or anyone if they are not scheduled don’t make plans in case they get called into a movie theatre is ridiculous. Y’all acting like your hiring drs for the ER during a pandemic. So unless you’re paying those kind of wages I wouldn’t be having those kinds of expectations.”

Me walking into royal farms in Bengies indicating attire https://t.co/AgH7PM6tLB pic.twitter.com/frLbB4ylkB

— Le Samourai (@bostondialect) February 16, 2022

“Your ‘17 days in advance’ policy is ridiculous, especially considering that all workers are expected to be ‘on call’ even on their days off,” said Facebook user Brandon Rooney, who added that he has been coming to Bengies for 15 years. “You realize that you have essentially demanded that all of your employees tell you every single thing that they do in their life and you must be able to approve it? It sounds like you’re looking for servants, not workers.”

“When no one applies, I bet they will blame people being lazy and not wanting to work instead of blaming themselves and their asinine rules,” Facebook user Kate Sienkiewich said.

Throw this in the “Why is there a labor shortage” pile.

I don’t know Bengies. Why do you think there’s a labor shortage??? https://t.co/L2dLyV1nrP

— GooglerInChief (@R0zzyB0wden) February 16, 2022

Other patrons shared negative experiences with the theater.

Facebook user Leah Grasso said she and her family stopped visiting the theater because “the owner wouldn’t stop talking over the movies to lecture us on the house rules and rant about Royal Farms.”

“I grew up going to Bengies, but it hasn’t been fun in years because of this kind of behavior from the owner,” Grasso said.

One more thing: you should apologize for talking over the post-credits scene during Venom: Let There Be Carnage back in October. I’m still upset about it. @bengies

— Jazzmen (@jazzmen_k) February 16, 2022

Some longtime Bengies supporters said they’ve had positive experiences at Bengies, but they were disappointed to learn about the drive-in theater’s employment policy.

“I’ve always supported your business,” Claress Severn wrote on Facebook. “I’ve always thought how amazing it is to have one of the only outdoor theaters in the US left, in my state! I’ve always thought that your business should be protected, and preserved. However, with the recent news on how you treat your employees, I cannot bring myself to support you.

Severn added that the theater is not beyond redemption, but that they would need to improve worker conditions before she becomes a customer again.

despite all that nonsense Bengies is a decent drive-in theater, sucks that its owned by a completely unhinged person

— The Black Tess McGill (@laurelofcourse) February 16, 2022

Facebook user Adrienne Gianesin said they will “always be a patron,” but that “maybe a revamp wouldn’t hurt.”

“Let’s get together and try and fix this rather than just bash it… this is what my parents and my grandparents grew up doing honest hard work … and I’ve learned my work ethic from them. So maybe some tweaking would help… definitely being more inclusive is a thing,” Gianesin wrote.

Click here to read a public response by Bengies’ part-owner D. Edward Vogel.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...

7 replies on “Bengies Drive-in Theatre receives backlash for ‘outdated’ employment policy”

    1. If they had not aborted policy, very few would have bothered working there, and Bengie’s would’ve gone the “way of the wind”….I will predict that they will be GONE within 3 years time.

      Too far out for most…and “going to the movies,” as a thing, will have been largely killed off by the “COVID era” of 2019-22. Americans have moved past it, especially in light of the dogmatically preachy, anti-family, and manifestly anti-U.S. fare being peddled by “Hollywood” as, “entertainment.”

      None for me…Thank you.

  1. Unpopular opinion here…. Since I grew up with this at every job, none of this shocks me nor do I disagree with… Except maybe the 17 days part… It was always 2 weeks notice But if you posted 2 weeks of schedules, I can see the need for the extra days. This was when we had respect for the workplace because if you didn’t, you were gone.. These days everyone complains that the employees of a place don’t care about working and give poor service…. maybe because these days employees are allowed to do whatever they want and the workplace just has to accept it

  2. How did it come to be that “Drive-in theaters” are part of the group of businesses exempt from minimum wage laws in Maryland? Isn’t Bengies the only drive-in theater?

    You can both expect to have workers with good work ethics, and simultaneously respect those workers in both policy and pay. These things aren’t mutually exclusive.

  3. I would like to say I whole heartedly agree with Mr. Vogel. The job entails working with the public and mostly children. You should understand and should know that you would be expected to dress accordingly. The business is seasonally operated meaning it does it’s heaviest revenue during a partial part of the year, which means if they don’t have enough employees to cover the work how can they remain operational and able to pay said employees. I am a truck driver and I have worked in other fields as well. I was expected to and did cover other absent employees shifts/jobs. It is part of the job world. I read what I signed on for which should be what the child and (responsible) parent should have done before they accepted the job. No one forces you to do what you don’t want to. All jobs have requirements whether you choose to accept them or not is your responsibility.

  4. Loved all the different views…. But Like Tonia and Mr. Patterson… sometimes we have rules that are restrictive but are needed to run a business. You wanna wear interesting clothes and unique jewelry … you can do that when you are at home and/or off work… I think thats why we call it a job. Its a place you may have to come to to do work… and its not about you, its about the business. If you could do it your way … it would be your work/ or business… hence the word work…Not alway easy…

    As for the policy of 17 days notice to take off…I would also say that is tough.. and the fact that you may be pulled in to work on your day off … yah thats tough … I would hope that working there would be such a good experience that you might feel like you want to help out..
    Making it mandatory, well that makes it tough and I think creates ill will…

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