Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dinner at the movies

I think we can all agree on one simple fact, the vast majority of geeks love films. That almost all of the top ten grossing films of all time are geek focused, or at least geek friendly attest to that.
And going to see films in the theater is still a big deal. My friends and I are already making our plans to go see the Avengers.
Unfortunately there is a sad truth we have to face. Movie theaters are an at risk industry. First off you have the competition for entertainment dollars with Streaming movies, rental, and gaming. Add to that that theaters don’t see much profit on sales. The truth is that in most cases the theater only gets 10% on the ticket sales.  It’s considered a general truth that movie theaters are in danger and you see more and more closing due to this. Theater owners are left trying to find ways to keep in business.
One model that is seeing some success is combining movie theaters with full service restaurants.
If you are not familiar with this concept it works something like this. You come to the theater, buy your ticket and go sit down as normal. There is often a cabaret style table in front of your seat and a menu. After you are seated a server will come and take your meal order. Food will be delivered directly to your seat. Many also have a way to order during the movie using slips that does not interfere with the viewing experience. About a half hour before the movie is over they will bring you the bill.

No, really.

There are two national chains that I know of that are doing this right now. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Cinebarre. There is a theater called Gold Class Cinema which is a subset of Village Cinema that does this, with a twist. More on that later.
Right now Alamo Drafthouse has theaters in Texas and Virginia; it is looking to expand shortly to New York, California, and Colorado. Cinebarre has locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
Before going forward I want to point out that I have been a regular at the Puget Sound Cinebarre for the last two years, but I have never been to an Alamo Drafthouse. Cinebarre was formed by a former Alamo Drafthouse co-owner so I imagine that the experiences are similar, which my research backs up..
So will this model help keep theaters alive. Right now the potential is certainly there. The big thing here is the revenue source. Having a full restaurant and a bar that can serve beer and wine provides a good profit margin. The other thing a theater like this can provide is customer loyalty.
Both chains are very proactive about in theater etiquette. Alamo Drafthouse has made national news about the ways they have dealt customers who will not stop talking or texting. I have personally witnessed Cinebarre ejecting a rowdy group that would not shut up. I don’t know about you, but right there you have my vote.
Another advantage is there is no need to sell commercial space. Nether chain has commercials on screen other than previews and the occasional promo for things like local film festivals. Instead you get shorts, often themed to match the movie.
And let’s be honest here, we have all had that experience were you go out and get dinner before the movie and due to slow service you start worrying you will miss show time. Obviously not an issue if dinner is served at the theater.
Speaking of dinner, let’s talk about the food. Again, I have not been to Alamo Drafthouse so I have no personal experience, but my understanding is that it is very similar to what I have had at Cinebarre. The food I have had is good quality diner food. It is burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and chicken strips. I have always stated that it is the exact quality I expect for what I pay. I took a friend there once and he was expecting to just tolerate his burger. The quote when he took his first bite was “holy crap, this is a good burger.”
Also this model can take advantage of another sad trend. Multiplexes are closing down. Well that leaves open buildings perfect for a remake. The Cinebarre near me use to be a Lowes multiplex. They just took out one theater and made it the kitchen, and remodeled the rest to include the tables and space for the servers to walk. Every time I hear about a theater closing I think here is a chance for a new theater/restaurant.
I mentioned earlier about Gold Class Cinema and that there was a twist to how they do it. In their case they are prompting themselves as a luxury movie experience, with recliners in place of theater seats, state of the art technology and high end food. But this comes with a price. At Cinebarre I pay the same for a ticket as I do at most other theaters in the area. At Gold Class I would need to pay $30.00 to get in.

I feel I have been spoiled by the Cinebarre in my area and in the two years since I discovered it I have seen all of three movies elsewhere and two of those were IMAX. And in the third case I found myself becoming annoyed by the commercials and the crowd.
So in the end I am going to admit I like this trend. It is a way to keep the theater going experience alive and thriving. I fully expect that in about five years we will see this trend expanded and much more common. I have yet to take someone that has not loved the experience and now have several friends where it is our default theater.
Of course I really want to get a chance to go to an Alamo Drafthouse at some point to compare the two.

1 comment:

  1. Two points: 1) I STILL have not been to Cinebarre and 2) I WOULD go for The Avengers launch, but I managed to score tix to a May 2 Preview at a regular Chain theater.

    I would like to have the Cinebarre experience one day. I'm going to have to work harder to make that happen.