“There are a lot of cinema and dining options out there across the country,” acknowledges Bruce J. Olson, president of Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Marcus Theatres, in talking about the Nov. 6 launch of the company’s new Midtown Cinema in Omaha, Nebraska. “What makes CineDine different is that we’ve taken the concept to the next level… Frankly, we’ve seen them all, from New England to Florida, to Texas, even in Australia. During every single one of those visits, there were things we’ve learned—either positive or negative—from what other exhibitors are doing.”
Readers of Film Journal International may not have had the pleasure of accompanying Olson and his team on those exploratory journeys, but—with now 14 entrées in our exclusive series—they were certainly able to feed their appetites for “Dinner at the Movies” on the menu pages of our magazine. “Hopefully,” says Olson, drawing his own conclusion, “we’ve put together the best technology and the best menus to make CineDine something special.”
Tallying the 668 screens at 54 theatres that make Marcus Theatres number seven nationwide (www.marcustheatres.com
), and the 19-strong hotel and resort group (www.marcuscorp.com
), Olson notes, “What makes CineDine different for us is that—being in the hotel and restaurant business—we’ve had food and beverage as part of our corporate culture for the past 50 years.”
Another long-lasting company, insurance and financial giant Mutual of Omaha, “wanted to do something special for the community upon their 100th anniversary,” Olson says, detailing the genesis of the 15-acre Midtown Crossing at Turner Park
. “As an anchor to the entire multi-hundred-million-dollar mixed-use development with condos and apartments, retail and restaurants, we were virtually the first business to open up.” (A YouTube video of the grand-opening party, which was followed by a week-long showing of Lovely, Still, written and directed by Omaha native Nik Fackler and starring Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, may be viewed here
Designed by TK Architects, the 54,000-square-foot (5,000 sq. m) upscale entertainment destination “is really our first entry into an urban, downtown area,” notes Olson. At the opening, he lauded its “two sophisticated urban cocktail lounges, meeting and event space, full catering service and a striking four-story glass façade with breathtaking views of the Midtown skyline and Turner Park.”
The now-servicemarked CineDine concept of in-theatre dining with tableside service was first introduced in May 2007 in one auditorium at the Marcus Majestic 16 in suburban Brookfield, Wisconsin. Asked about the expansion of the concept to all five auditoriums at the Midtown—with capacities ranging from 95 to 210 for a total of some 710 seats—Olson explains, “Any one is not enough to spread your kitchen and wait-staff labor.”
The company’s director of food and beverage, Joseph “Omar” Andrietsch, provides additional details. “It takes x-amount of square footage and x-amount of associates to execute any given showtime,” he explains. “When there’s only one show in a block, you have to wait two or three hours for the next one. That is an awful lot of down time and very expensive. Having multiple auditoriums instead allows you to maximize both the heart-of-the-house and front-of-the-house staff. Through rotation basis of the showtimes, you are able to fully execute the concept and keep those folks busy. More similar to what a regular standalone restaurant would be, you keep the rush coming…”
With over 20 years in the independent food and beverage sector—running “virtually every aspect of the hospitality business from saloons to fine dining and everything in between”—Andrietsch knows a thing or two about serving crowds efficiently. In his last post prior to Marcus at the Wisconsin State Fair, he dealt with hosting over 225 food vendors. “CineDine has been the culmination of all of my experiences,” he admits.
Although “Omar did not come from our hotel division,” adds Olson, “we still work quite a bit with the executive chefs at our hotels for ideas and recipes.” Case in point are the menus at the Marcus Midtown, where Andrietsch and one of said chefs have created a luscious selection of Coconut Onion Rings (“Opening Scenes”), Orient Express Salad (“The Green Room”), Prime Rib Wrap (“That’s a Wrap”), Bleu Flame Chicken (“Cinema Sandwiches”) and Funnel Stix (“Sweet Scenes”), to name but a few.
Many more food options abound at other Marcus Theatres as well. Looking at Brookfield
again, the 16-plex offers Zaffiro’s Pizza Café, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, the “Hot Zone” with expanded menu items such as pretzel bites and White Castle minis at the concession stand, and the “Take Five” cocktail lounge. “Some years back,” Olson says, acknowledging a decidedly local flavor, “we realized customers aren’t going to buy movie theatre pizza, movie theatre coffee or anything else. So it was very appropriate for us to get the best brand names locally.”
“Being based in Milwaukee and Wisconsin,” concurs Andrietsch, “we look to work with local partners here, and as we continue to expand our operations, they are great partners to have come along. It increases locations for them as it gives us brands that are recognizable to the guests.” Further examples are Stone Creek Coffee Roasters, and “whereas other folks might use Häagen Dazs or sell Ben & Jerry’s and the like,” Marcus chose the previously mentioned “artisan super-premium ice cream maker” from Madison.
New to the Midtown Cinema are what the media release called “two metropolitan cocktail lounges.” According to Olson, with seating for about 75, “Glo” is “the perfect spot for people to relax and unwind while enjoying the sights of the city. The posh lounge features a glowing neon backlit bar, oversized leather seating and flat-screen monitors showing the latest in entertainment, sports and news. In addition to specialty crafted cocktails, guests can enjoy small-plate dining from a creative menu inspired by American, European and Asian cuisines. Our second cocktail lounge, ‘vue,’ offers adults an intimate atmosphere before or after the movie” along with “wine, spirits, light appetizers and desserts.”
The 35-seat, top-level vue directly adjoins the VIP balcony of the largest CineDine auditorium. In addition to their dining areas, the other four have Loge sections with articulating high-back cupholder seating only. This option is intended for people who actually do not wish to Dine but just want to Cine “in a very comfortable seat,” as Olson puts it. The spread between the two sections is 60/40 percent, Andrietsch estimates, with the larger share obviously going to CineDine. Ticket price differentials are one dollar more for the reserved CineDine and an additional five for the VIP balcony. The latter includes a voucher “that can be used towards any food and beverage purchase anywhere in the building,” Olson adds.
Andrietsch sees “several advantages” in having those two lounges in addition to the fact that patrons can enjoy drinks and meals inside the theatre. “Glo is a more dynamic option for guests who are coming to the movies but, as a standalone operation, also for people who are coming to this area. If folks want to come and meet with their friends, it’s a great place to do so… Yes, you can have a drink inside the theatre; however, you are still watching a movie. The lounges are more of a social gathering area.”
Restricted to 21 and over, he envisions vue as the place for “a quieter clientele, perhaps. It’s a bit further away from everything else, a nice place…with a different style and type of music.”
“We have a main kitchen on the third level where all the food is prepped,” Andrietsch continues, explaining the lay of the land. “All the food for CineDine comes from there. Items for Glo and vue are prepped in the main kitchen but finished in areas on the levels adjacent to the two lounges.”
That 2,500-square-foot (230 sq. m.) beating heart of the house—finishing areas are 550 sq. ft. and 100 sq. ft., respectively—employs 30 people while service requires some 40 staff members and cinema operations another 25 during peak hours. “It’s a different mix,” Andrietsch elaborates. “From a kitchen perspective, those numbers are about the same as in a restaurant in terms of number of covers produced. When it comes to front-of-house, the staffing dynamics are a bit different. Whereas you would normally have more servers and less runners and busers, we flip-flop that around. Our servers utilize handheld point-of-sale systems, so that in essence they never have to leave the auditorium. They are there to take care of the guests. When they enter an order, it goes right into the appropriate area, be it drinks or appetizers, where they get attended to instantly. Once finished, we have runners to take them to the seats.”
“Our goal is to replicate a restaurant experience as best as we can,” Andrietsch says about the practice of continuing to serve patrons once the movie has started. “If you go out to dinner, you have a couple of different options: You can order a glass of wine while looking at the menu, order an appetizer and then have another glass of wine with your entrée… Or, if you know what you want, you can place your entire order before the movie starts and we can course it for you, just as a restaurant would. So you have some options, but the goal is to create a dining experience as close to a restaurant as possible.”
By the same token, Olson opines, “a cinema and dining combination may not be the right choice for the strict cinephile who doesn’t want to be distracted by the dingle of china or silverware.” This said, “the majority of people will enjoy this,” he believes. “Our staff is all clad in black and, given the height and depth of all of our risers, they will not block the screen at any time. They can walk in the row behind the guests—from two sets of stairs on either side of the auditorium—and will never be noticed by anyone. And that’s the goal: not to be noticed. But is our auditorium perfectly quiet?” he asks. “No.” Then again, which one is these days?
To further facilitate the enjoyment of food and beverages in the dark, the locally designed and on-the-spot custom-built tables at CineDine feature incandescent lighting that does not interfere with the images on the screen. “It creates an opportunity for people to actually see what they are eating,” Olson says with a laugh. “You know what I mean? In other places across the country, the auditoriums are so dark that you have to wait for a light scene in the movie popping off the screen. We thought it was essential to have some lighting on the counter in front of people.”
Additionally, a fully automatic call button assures continued communication with the wait staff. “We don’t want our staff to be waiting conspicuously for someone to be waving them over,” Olson elaborates. “This remote-control button is connected to screens in various locations throughout the building.” The custom design from Mexico of the “theatre seat on wheels,” as Olson calls it, also allows for all-around adjustment in comfort and positioning.
While the restaurant software comes from Aloha, “a huge name in the hospitality business,” cinema concessions and ticketing packages are provided by Radiant.
Olson concludes, “The entire concept of cinema and dining is all about the American culture and way of life. Instead of taking an hour and a half to park and go to a restaurant, and then be driving again to see a two-hour movie, you come to one location here. You have a cocktail in the lounge, sit down in the auditorium for a great meal and a movie. That’s what CineDine is all about. We have such a limited amount of time in our lives for out-of-home entertainment. This offers a great option for a lot of people.”