Be Kind, Recline: Today’s luxury chairs require extra care and maintenance


The move to luxury recliner seating has continued to pick up steam. Many exhibitors, myself included, are seeing the benefit of recliners on the guest experience and, more importantly, the bottom line. Whether you have already installed recliners or are considering them, we should all be aware of the long-term impact of recliner seating on our operations.

First, we need to understand that recliners are not the same as the traditional rocker chair that cinemas typically installed five years ago. They require much more attention, cleaning and maintenance. This means increased labor, more procedures and, of course, added costs.

Manufacturer after manufacturer told me that proper cleaning is the number-one thing exhibitors can do to extend the life of their chairs. Even though a lot depends on the type of upholstery, the consensus was to wipe down the chairs with soft, damp cloths using only warm water and, if needed, a small touch of a gentle soap like Dawn. If done frequently, this should be enough to cut through most body residueand popcorn oils left behind on the chair. Avoid citrus-based cleansers, and definitely do not use ammonia or silicone-based cleansers, like ArmorAll, as this will rapidly accelerate the breakdown of your upholstery.

Another keen observation that manufacturers shared was that in many cases the theatre staff is well versed in cleaning the chairs, yet the training and proper care instructions never get relayed to the third-party janitor companies who clean after hours. I was told one horror story about an exhibitor who was shocked that their upholstery was starting to crack after only a year. The staff was using the proper method to clean, but after a little investigation it was discovered that the janitors were using the same degreaser on the chairs that the staff used to clean the hoods in the concession stand. Never mind watching Annabelle: Creation—I didn’t sleep for days after hearing this tale.

After proper cleaning, inspection is the next major recommendation. In a theatre with luxury seating, inspection means more than just checking a row of seats to see if the backs are lining up with each other. Staff will need to open and close seats to make sure they work. They will need to check for damage to armrests, seat and back cushions and footrests. Also, they need to see if LED lights are on and if the control buttons are properly attached and functioning. This process can be time-consuming. I have found that installing a device in the auditorium that allows us to open and close all the seats at once helps us to quickly identify seats that may have issues. Luckily, 99 percent of the time when a chair is not opening, we find it is not the motor but the chair becoming unplugged from its power connection.

It goes without saying that luxury recliners have a lot of parts that need to be maintained. Having staff who are properly trained to replace the parts and make repairs is a key factor in keeping the chairs up and running. Manufacturers have designed their chairs to be comfortable and easily repaired. By making chair elements like armrests, backs and cushions modular, chair manufacturers have made it simple for trained staff to swap out damaged parts. However, this means exhibitors need to be aware of how much attic stock they should have on hand. In order to save a few dollars, exhibitors often cut back on extra parts when the initial order is placed, only to find themselves in a bind a few years later, when the attic stock is depleted and it is much harder to match the upholstery or source the parts.

Typically, you should expect to see wear and tear first appearing on the armrests and footrest. In most cases, the useful life of the chair will far exceed the look of your chair. In five to seven years, you may need to consider rotating your prime seating areas with units from the less frequently used sections of your auditoriums.

One thing I believe strongly is that guests are responding to the comfort and look of recliners. If you fail to maintain the quality of your chairs over the long term, don’t be surprised that your guests stop responding to them in the same way.

Damon Rubio is president of the independent California circuit D’ Place Entertainment.