Very Important Patrons: Theatre circuits embrace a VIP approach


VIP auditoriums are a growing trend in the motion picture exhibition business, usually defined by extra-plush seating, more substantial food offerings, and attentive customer service. In this exclusive FJI survey, seven circuits from around the globe detail what they’re doing to make their customers feel like very important patrons.

Gold Class Cinemas
Leading Australian circuit Village Roadshow introduced its Gold Class VIP concept to America in 2008, and now Gold Class Cinemas has six U.S. locations in Pasadena, CA; Austin and Fairview, TX; South Barrington and Bollingbrook, IL; and Redmond, WA, with six to eight auditoriums per complex.

“At Gold Class Cinemas we have a maximum of 40 seats per auditorium and no obstructed sightlines,” says marketing VP Mark Mulcahy. “Every seat is a great one.”

All of Gold Class’ custom-built, fully reclining, oversized chairs are equipped with a storage compartment, a call button for the server, pillows and blankets. Gold Class offers complete in-cinema food and beverage service, including a full seasonal menu created by their onsite chefs.
“We also do special film-related offerings, as we currently have for Eat Pray Love,” Mulcahy notes. A ticket for Eat Pray Love brings complimentary amuses with tastes from all the countries the Julia Roberts character visits.

As for alcoholic beverages, “We offer a full bar with an 80-bottle wine list, 30 more wines by the glass, 12 beers on tap, another 12 by the bottle and signature cocktails. Selection is key at Gold Class Cinemas for both food and beverage,” Mulcahy says. Currently, one out of the six locations is a 21-and-over establishment, in accordance with state liquor laws.

The Gold Class ticket price for members is $20 to $22, depending on location, and $25 to $29 for members on Fridays and Saturdays after 12 noon. For non-members, the price for all shows is $25 to $29, depending on location. Membership is free, and benefits include special pricing, “Member Martini Mondays,” “Members Get More” Tuesdays, free birthday visits, special events and other offers.

Summing up, Mulcahy says, “Many of our guests describe Gold Class Cinemas as a combination of an upscale club or hotel lounge with a first-class seat and service experience.” (


Cinépolis is the largest motion picture exhibitor in México and Latin America and the fourth-largest motion picture exhibitor in the world with 251 theatres and 2,360 screens operating in nine countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panamá, Colombia, Peru, India and Brazil.
Ten years ago. Cinépolis launched the first luxury cinema concept in Latin America, known as Cinépolis VIP. Today, in addition to top-quality projection and sound, Cinepolis VIP offers clients a relaxing and plush screening-room experience, gourmet food and drink with waiter service, and the convenience of advance ticket purchase and seat selection, at a price point that makes it an affordable luxury.

Cinépolis VIP is currently in five countries, with 34 cinemas and 133 screens; 30 cinemas are in México, and the rest are in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panamá. The circuit plans to open two additional VIP theatres in Mexico City (Polanco) and Colombia this year. In 2009, Cinépolis VIP welcomed 3.46 million attendees to its theatres. This year, Cinépolis VIP expects 3.91 million attendees.

The VIP theatres have an average of 80 seats, with 10 to 11 seats per row, each steeped to provide excellent sightlines and with ample room to walk between rows even when the seats are fully reclined.

“The Cinépolis VIP experience starts from the moment our clients purchase their tickets,” says brand manager Devon Greensweig. “At the time of ticket purchase, which is offered online, via mobile device, over the phone (all part of our Cineticket platform), or at the box office, the client is able to choose and reserve his or her own seat. Once in our exclusive lobbies, the client can choose to sit at the full bar, in one of our comfortable lounge areas, or enter the theatre directly. Each theatre is equipped with a team of waiters, who are available to take orders during the first 15 minutes of the show, along with waiters always present in the lobby.

“The lobby design is chic and modern,” Greensweig continues. “The theatres are warm and cozy, decorated in warm tones of chocolate with dim stainless-steel lamps set between every two seats. Our VIP seat is leather and fully reclining, including a foot rest. Each extra-wide seat is paired with another seat; when the armrest is lifted, the seats become a loveseat.”

Cinépolis VIP’s food and drink offerings include assorted sushi rolls and fried rice bowls, baguettes and fresh-made crepes (sweet or savory, with nutella, ham-and-cheese, etc.); a full bar serving mixed drinks, wine and beer; a coffee bar with espresso drinks, teas and frappuccinos; desserts such as cheesecake, chocolate cake and apple pie; and typical movie concessions including fresh popcorn in four flavors, candies, ice cream bars, hot dogs, nachos, sodas and vitamin water.

For theatres in premium cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara, tickets average $122 MXN (slightly less than US$10). 3D presentations average $159 MXN, or slightly less than US$13.

“Our VIP theatres are situated almost exclusively in enclosed malls and open-air lifestyle centers,” Greensweig notes. “The majority of our VIP theatres are also paired with traditional theatre formats: four VIP theatres and exclusive lobby combined with eight to 12 traditional theatres that have their own concessions, box office and lobby areas.” (

Vue Entertainment
Leading U.K. circuit Vue inherited the “Gold Class” concept with its acquisition of Warner Village in 2003. Vue currently operates four Gold Class screens: three at Vue Star City Birmingham and one at Manchester Lowery. Three Gold Class screens at Edinburgh Omni were changed to normal screens with a few rows of VIP seats, conforming to the rest of the screens in the circuit.

Vue’s newest version of a VIP offering is at London’s Vue Westfield with The Scene: three screens with special extra-plush reclining seats, a private lounge and bar, concierge service and a cloak room.

Vue’s VIP venues do not provide meals but light snacks such as canapés, along with the normal offerings. Alcohol is on sale, and The Scene at Vue Westfield even offers Cristal champagne on occasion.

At The Scene, the peak price is £16 for all, irrespective of age. The 3D premium is £2.

Mark de Quervain, Vue’s sales and marketing director, says the choice of a VIP location is “dependent on a number of variables such as local income and demographics of the population, and the location of the actual cinema such as with Westfield, which is a high-class, busy centre. It also depends on the size of the scheme (such as the number of screens), as the opportunity cost of a VIP screen versus a normal screen needs to be balanced.” (

Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres
As detailed in our August 2010 issue, Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres debuted its new ICON concept late last year at The West End in St. Louis Park, MN, and at Roosevelt Collection in Chicago’s South Loop. Each location has two VIP Premium auditoriums, with 130 to 150 seats each. The VIP ticket price is $5 above the regular ticket price.

“VIP seating is located in the upper areas of our very largest auditoriums with screens approximately 65 feet wide and all-digital projection systems,” explains chief operating office Dean Kerasotes. “The VIP chairs, custom-designed by Irwin Seating, are loveseats separated by a table.”

Kerasotes’ VIP areas offer reserved seating restricted to guests age 21 and over. Food and beverages from the Lobby Lounge can be taken to the VIP seats, and Kerasotes pledges “a high level of customer service to greet and seat guests.”

Food offerings include a wide range of appetizers including imported Italian meat and cheese plates, homemade chips with Vidalia onion dip, and bacon popcorn, and a wide selection of paninis, pizzas, sliders and desserts. “All offerings are made from scratch using only the finest ingredients,” Kerasotes says.

When contemplating the VIP offering, the circuit looks for “more of an urban, big-city clientele and demographics with a large number of young, urban, influential and affluent empty-nesters.” Kerasotes reveals. Future ICON locations, he says, will aim to have at least four VIP areas. (

Huayi Brothers Cinemas
The newly formed Huayi Brothers Cinemas (HBC) has two cinema auditoriums branded "Directors Suites," one in Beijing and one in Chongqing, China. HBC plans to build at least two upscale Directors Suites in each of the cinemas the circuit opens in the coming years. Their current plans calls for five new sites in 2010 and seven more in 2011.

With a minimum of 36 seats each, the HBC VIP rooms are described by business development manager Yang Liu as “boutique, luxury venues with reclining seating and super-wide screens, offering personalized levels of service, a dedicated bathroom and a lounge area.”
Food offerings, which are delivered to the customer’s seat, include chicken wings and other snacks, wine and other alcoholic drinks. The VIP ticket price is 100 to 150 RMB.

According to Liu, HBC’s VIP rooms are best suited for cinemas of 5,000-plus square meters, in upscale markets where “offering multiple experiences and the opportunity to up-sell F&B provide a point of difference.” (

Paragon Theaters
Jupiter, FL-based Paragon Theaters recently opened the Village 12 in Fredericksburg, VA. “It is truly a groundbreaking box and entertainment destination,” says CEO Mike Whalen. “It contains 16 lanes of luxury bowling, 12 screens including three VIP balcony auditoriums with 120 seats each, and the Chatterbox Lounge for VIP guests.”

The 21-and-over VIP auditoriums feature 65-foot screens and large leather loveseats. Customers can reserve seats online, and enjoy cocktails and dining at the Chatterbox Lounge. Food items include sushi, pizza and sliders, and moviegoers can bring them into the auditorium. Ticket prices add $5 to the standard fee.

Whalen says each of Paragon’s new theatres will include 21-and-over VIP seating. “We believe secondary markets make sense for this, as it truly is the ‘entertainment destination’ for such cities.” (

Cobb Theatres/CineBistro
Birmingham, AL-based Cobb Theatres/CineBistro offers 34 VIP auditoriums ranging from 60 to 90 seats. Seating is oversized leatherette chairs with built-in tables. According to chief operating officer Jeremy P. Welman, upscale “American bistro” cuisine is delivered to the customer’s seat, and alcoholic beverages are also served. VIP ticket prices and age restrictions vary by location. (