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Why Are We Still Calling It Will Call?

Traditions die hard in this field but one of the more baffling practices is the continued use of the term “will call” as the preferred name for the option of picking prepaid tickets up at the box office upon arriving at venue’s box office. Most newbies don’t know what “will call” means and when I talk to box office folks about this, most have noticed an increase in confusion over the term with patrons assuming it has something to do with calling for tickets.

question markFor anyone used to buying event tickets on their smartphone, the entire notion of waiting in a line to pick up printed tickets seems bothersome and archaic to begin with; toss a throwback piece of nomenclature like “will call” into the mix and it is no wonder why new and infrequent ticket buyers find the live orchestra concert experience fraught with inconvenience. “What do you mean you don’t offer smartphone tickets?”

Consequently, why does the field as a whole still use the term?

I’m curious to know if anyone out there has adopted an alternative and if so, did you do anything special with the transition. Please send in a comment and share your experiences.

I’m also curious to know what other observations readers have about practices, such as will call, you think could benefit from updating. In fact, it would be fascinating if there’s enough commonality to compile a list of Top 10 Traditions That Need To Go Away In 2013.

Update, 1:40pm CT: Here’s the list as it stands so far based on reader input. We’ll add to this as more ideas come in.

Top 10 Traditions That Need To Go Away In 2013

  1. The term “Will Call”
  2. The term “Box Office”
  3. Counter-intuitive seating section names (loge, mezzanine, orchestra, etc.)
  4. ???
  5. ???
  6. ???
  7. ???
  8. ???
  9. ???
  10. ???

24 Responses to Why Are We Still Calling It Will Call?

  1. Ceci Dadisman (@CeciDadisman) December 19, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    At Palm Beach Opera, we do call it “will call” internally but normally tell patrons that we will “hold their tickets at the Box Office.”

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 9:18 am #

      Thanks Ceci, what do you folks label it for online purchases?

  2. Paul Helfrich December 19, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Oh heck, Drew, why do we still call it a “box office?” And, that term is not only used to refer to the place one goes to/calls for tickets, but to the results of sales – “boffo box office.” (Parenthetically, has anyone ever heard “boffo” applied to anything OTHER than “box office?”)

    “Orchestra Level” seats for orchestra concerts are another head-scratcher. And where else, other than a theatre, would one find a “loge?” Or a “mezzanine?” Here’s a question for the Met: does one have to dress differently to sit in the “Dress Circle?”

    Well, one thing I’ll say, working in a town with a big military presence – we have our archaic words no one else uses, but at least we’re not into acronyms.

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      I was hoping someone would bring up the “box office” observation. I was going to mention that too but then the post just seemed like one long angry street corner style rant.

      However, I had not thought about the seating level names but I entirely agree. I’ve also wondered why some halls use “left” and “right” sub labels since in the end, it really depends on perspective.

      So, we have our second and third items here as far as I’m concerned: seating section names should be intuitive and “box office” should be something akin to “ticket window” or something similarly obvious.

  3. Dave December 19, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Top 10 Traditions That Need To Go Away In 2013? Perhaps that would make a good slideshow for Huffington Post. :-)

    Regarding the expression “will call,” I guess I don’t think about it very much because I know what it means. I suppose this is exactly your point. We don’t find it weird, but anybody outside of our admittedly insular performing arts subculture probably would.

    The last time I went to an orchestra performance was a few weeks ago at the New World Symphony in Miami. I ordered them on the web and they didn’t use the expression “will call” either on the site or in my email confirmation. They just said “hold at box office.” I think the box office had a sign that said “pre-orders” or something similar. No “will call” in sight.

    I would have LOVED to just just have my tickets on my phone, though.

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      HufPo, why did it have to be HufPo? :) That’s a very good observation about the digital communication and given the consistency, my bet would be that it’s the same way online.

      And don’t get me started about the state of ticketing programs used by most nonprofit performing arts groups.

  4. Robert Massey December 19, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    We simply direct people to purchase or pick-up pre-purchased tickets at any of our windows. Patrons can print tickets at home and will soon be able to scan smart phone tickets. Some archaic souls actually order in advance and have physical tickets mailed to them (the real rebels thwart the system and purchase a subscription). While a few in our ticket office still toss around “will call”, the term we definitely moved away from is “box” office.

  5. Sam December 19, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    I feel like Will Call is a much more widely used term than you seem to think it is, Drew. In my city, pretty much every theater, music hall, and professional sports franchise uses it. It’s just a way of differentiating the box office line for picking up pre-purchased tickets from the line of people who still need to buy tickets. I’ve never heard of anyone being terribly confused by it.

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 11:07 am #

      Spend some time talking to as many box office folks as you can, especially those responsible for customer service.

  6. Lisa Hirsch December 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    Oh, US venues should definitely start calling orchestra seats the “stalls,” the way the ROH does. That confused the hell out of me for a very long time.

    I’m reasonably sure we have terms such as Grand Tier and Dress Circle to keep people from thinking they’re in a balcony, even though they are.

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

      Ha, I like that. I can hear the users now…

      “Yes sir, you’re in the Yep, it’s a balcony Section, Row BB, Seat 5.”

  7. Amy Miller December 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Additional fees on top of the ticket price. For Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center concerts, the fee is $6 per ticket online, $2 if you purchase in person, and free in person if the ticket is $10 or less. Just say that the ticket is $12, $16, $100, whatever. But the names of the fees are confusing — “building fee,” “service fee” — and I don’t understand why they vary depending on where you buy the ticket. When I worked ticketing at The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, which holds its concerts at the Kimmel Center, I found that if I told patrons the total price, rather than trying to explain the various fees, that transactions went much more smoothly.

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      You can say all of that again!

    • Lisa Hirsch December 19, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      Oh, THANK YOU for mentioning this. “Convenience fees” just raise my blood pressure. I can’t just walk into a box office, er, up to the ticket window for most venues, so I order on line and get charged for the privilege of using technology rather than taking up someone’s time.

      I just want a total price. I understand that there are costs of doing business. I want a single price per ticket in a given location on a given night, regardless of how I buy it, and without being annoyed by the extra fees.

  8. Dan Rasay December 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Anybody here been to an NBA game recently… few people seem to have a problem finding “Will Call” at our local arena (Go Blazers!).

    So I’m not convinced the nomenclature is the problem… perhaps it is a signage issue (ie. big signs at entrances with arrows to “Tickets/Will Call”). Is there a true correlation between user age (ie. younger) and confusion about where to pick up tickets?

    Re: section naming – Really? I’ve never heard of this being confusing. Again… sporting events use analogous nomenclature (ie. upper deck, lower deck, club level, field level) with little confusion.

    Are patrons getting denser?

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      Funny you mention the big signs/pointers angle. I had a conversation with one of my Venture users this summer. We were talking about the will call/box office nomenclature issue. This group is a big family attraction theatre so they get a large number of newbies.

      My client mentioned they put a BIG sign up at the parking lot pointing people to the “box office.” At several points in the summer, my client said he would be standing right in front of the sign that read “this way to the box office” and folks would still regularly walk up to him and ask where they could buy tickets.

      Now, let’s assume some of those folks were just clueless and no amount of signage would have made a difference. But that doesn’t account for what my client reported as an issue with ticket buyer frustration over the issue of finding the place they could buy tickets.

      So I don’t think it’s age based so much as it is related to live event experience.

      But now that you’ve brought up the sports venue angle, I’m going to see about crossing paths with more folks from that field to see what sort of experience they have.

  9. James March December 19, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    “…ticket buyers find the live orchestra concert experience fraught with incontinence.” Gee, if that is truly the case, then perhaps the box office should be moved closer to the restrooms!

    • Drew McManus December 19, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

      Ha! Good catch. Where would we be without autospell? So much for composing posts on the iPad…

      • Randall Olson December 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

        Frankly, I thought that you used the correct word.

  10. Andrew Burn December 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Theatres, of all varieties, use the term ‘Box Office’ all over Canada. Maybe this isn’t the case in the U.S.? I definitely understand confusion when using the term ‘will call’ when ‘box office’ will do, but I see no need for the latter to be changed just because its tradition. Where’s the beef? Or, to be more festive, rather, the mincemeat?

  11. Steven Ovitsky December 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Here at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival we stopped using the term Box Office years ago. It’s the Ticket Office.

  12. marysteffes December 21, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Our signs simply state “Ticket Pick-Up” In addition to “Will Call” so both the new and old patrons can understand where they are going. We too have found it very confusing for new ticket buyers as to what the terms mean.

    • Drew McManus December 21, 2012 at 9:58 am #

      Many thanks Mary, which group is the “our” you referenced?

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