Food for thought: New cinema construction embraces movie dining


Having profiled numerous options for “Dinner at the Movies” exclusively on these pages since May 2007, Film Journal International has good news for our readers who are still hungry for more. The concept has reached the mainstream, as evidenced by this Wall Street Journal headline on Jan. 5: “To Upgrade from Dirty Carpets and Tubs of Popcorn, Theater Chains Try Full Menus, Seat-Side Service.” In that report, the Journal showed it had not been paying attention in class when it stated, “As Hollywood churns out ever more attractive big-budget films, laden with 3D and other special effects, little has changed at theatres, where audiences can find worn seats, stale popcorn and overpriced candy.”

In fact, when it comes to serving food and beverages, our fourth and last-semester “Class of 2010” reached new culinary heights. In addition to bringing cocktails, hearty snacks, restaurants and bars, and even bowling into the movie mix, the first of our seven examples featured this month cooked up some recipes for running concessions a bit differently.

Reopening its expanded doors on Dec. 17, the “all new” Ritz 13 at Hollywood Connection in Columbus, Georgia, “features the latest innovations in movie ticket and concessions practices,” Carmike Cinemas’ media release noted. “Standing in two lines, one to buy an admissions ticket and then again to buy popcorn and a drink, has always bothered me,” stated David Passman, the circuit’s president. “We have combined ticket and concessions purchasing, thereby removing an entire waiting line,” he explained. “With the elimination of a separate box office, our patrons should find it faster and more convenient to purchase both tickets and concessions. We’ve also added a popular new self-serve feature, which will allow patrons to add butter flavor to their popcorn and mix and match fountain drinks at their choosing.”

Even better, the offering comes with unlimited free refills on all sizes, Carmike’s director of marketing, Dale Hurst, tells FJI. “Once patrons order their popcorn, they receive an empty bag that another attendant will fill for them at a second counter.”

This particular layout greatly improves the lobby flow, adds Rick Thompson of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Artech Design, who was also tasked with adding three new stadium auditoria. “Convenience and quick concessions response is always a goal and the new Ritz offers both. Lobby/concessions circulation is an area that Carmike gives great consideration to. After all, the lobby/concessions areas are the first impression the moviegoers get and their first experience in the facilities,” the architect observes.

For that favorable second and third impression throughout, the ten older auditoria were completely renovated, with four houses getting a stadium retrofit and all of them some 2,268 new seats, new carpet, drapes and sound systems. This being Carmike, they are 100% digital projection, of course, with five RealD 3D systems in place.

On the same December day the Ritz reopened, Carmike also launched a BigD large-format screen at the Riverstone 15 in Canton, Georgia, a multiplex which had its original debut in December 1998. As the Ritz 10 goes back to May 1997, “Carmike wanted to update the theatres, corridors, and the lobby with a more current and modern theme,” Artech’s Thompson assures. “The use of forms, colors and materials reflect the modern palette. Knowing that the reopening…would give them an opportunity to re-brand the theatre and expand their market share, Carmike opted to completely shut the facility down during the massive interior overhaul.” Given a tight schedule of around three months, “the contractors did a great job of expediting the construction, and not at the expense of the finished product,” he affirms. “Carmike reopened the Ritz to a record crowd and has received many compliments on the new look that was achieved.” Another achievement was moving the popular “Screening Room” for art-house and independent films from Carmike’s Peachtree 8 discount theatre across town to the Ritz 13. “We created a new look for the auditorium that includes bigger and nicer seats,” Hurst noted about the extra-large leatherette chairs.

Along with swivel tables and seat-side service, AMC Entertainment logo-embroidered plush recliners take center stage at their Cinema Suites. Since Dec. 8, this “premium, upscale in-theatre dining” experience is available at five of the 13 remodeled screens in the Fork & Screen wing at AMC Grapevine Mills 30 in the Texas town of the same name. During the renovation, which commenced in September, the 17 traditional auditoria remained open for business. Since we already previewed AMC’s Dine-In Theatre concept at the initial sites—Studio 30 in Olathe, Kansas; AMC Fork & Screen Buckhead, Georgia (FJI February 2009) and the amazing AMC Mainstreet in downtown Kansas City, Missouri—Film Journal International is looking at the expediency of the rollout here.

From Nov. 17 in West Orange, NJ (AMC Essex Green 9) to Dec. 15 in Edison, NJ (Menlo Park 12), AMC actually opened one new dine-in location per week. During the Nov. 21 reception at Bridgewater Commons 7, the third theatre redo in the Garden State, George Patterson said that AMC plans to offer dine-in theatres at approximately 10% of the company’s 382 theatres in the coming years. AMC’s senior VP of food and beverage admitted that the existing theatre, built in the late 1980s by General Cinema and updated over the past 20 years, had not been “as good as” the surrounding shopping center. “The cinema and its guests certainly deserved a new concept worthy of the community.” About the conversion process, he jokingly admitted to “building the airplane as we are learning how to fly it.” Judging from the result, AMC has passed the test with flying colors.

While Bridgewater had closed in mid-August for the Fork & Screen overhaul, Menlo Park took about four-and-a-half months to be redone. While we wouldn’t necessarily quote from a blog called TheSexyArmpit when it comes to food and beverage, we’re making a notable exception for Edison, New Jersey. After all, “it was a total trip” for Jay Amabile to go to Menlo Park “after its makeover” since he actually worked there for nearly five years. “What seemed like an easy part-time job throughout high school and some of college was truly an awesome experience, so I felt like I needed to check out what they’ve done to my old digs. It was great to see that the structure and layout has stayed primarily the same, but what has changed is the fact that the traditional movie theatre will soon be extinct.”

This author believes in-theatre dining provides a tempting option for moviegoers, while at the same time smaller theatres in good locations that have seen competition grow around them get a lease extension on their lives. Just as converting a megaplex wing into a decidedly different set of choices for enjoying any given movie offers a viable solution for those locations that may have gotten too big for a now divided catchment. Instead of a blockbuster playing on a second or third regular screen, moviegoers can now nosh and nibble if they should so desire.

Now that we’ve covered upgrades and complete re-dos, our last two cinemas represent the 2010 trend lines of reopening and new construction. Not only are the latest iPic Theatre and UltraStar Cinema located some nine miles (14.5 km) and 20 or so minutes apart in Scottsdale, Arizona, they also both offer the latest take on the lap of luxury that VIP and first-class amenities are offering these days.

With the Nov. 18 opening of UltraLuxe Theater Pavilions 11 in Scottsdale, UltraStar Cinemas introduced its new luxury-infused brand in the shell of the former United Artists theatre there. “It is the same footprint” as the 1989-built multiplex that had closed after 20 years of service, Damon Rubio, UltraStar VP of operations, explains. “While staying within the existing four walls, we completely gutted it, added stadium rakes, party and VIP rooms and much more. The ambiance of the UltraLux Theater incorporates real water fountains, plenty of bistro-style seating and lots of hand-painted art from local artists who helped tie together the Mediterranean-themed lobby.” The architects on the project were Phoenix, Arizona-based Level 4 Studios.

In addition to six “all-ages” auditoria, of which the three largest hold 250 people, the UltraLuxe Theater complex includes “five screens outfitted in our new Star Class concept with extra-plush VIP seating” for between 30 and 40 guests. Three of these also have private VIP rooms for 10 to 12 people each that can be rented for private parties and events. Overall, the theatre has close to 1,600 seats. “All of the Star Class auditoria offer beer and wine service and in-seat ordering from our expanded menu that includes hummus, personal pizza and salads and our fabulous made-to-order paninis,” Rubio notes. “We feature a beautiful Cinema Café that offers desserts, specialty coffee drinks, expanded menu items and, of course, beer and wine in the evening. This location also offers our deluxe specialty corn made fresh on-site. Choose from cheese corn, kettle corn and caramel corn. In January we also introduced our chocolate-coated and mixed-nut popcorn.”

As for technology, all digital is a given, as four auditoria offer Panavision’s Digital 3D system. “Continuing our great partnership with D-Box,” one house has 26 moving seats that “have continued to be a huge draw for Harry Potter and Tron fans,” Rubio confirms at press time. “We can provide the full range from a fun family movie night out to a more upscale date night without the kids, to the ultimate sensory overload of 3D and D-BOX combined. UltraStar Cinemas approached this project with the concept of creating a great venue where guests could tailor their movie experiences.”

iPic-Gold Class Entertainment offers not one but two luxury seating options since opening its Scottsdale Quarter location on Dec. 17. The first branded iPic Theaters—and eighth location overall for the combined company that includes assets and expertise from iPic Entertainment (Hamid Hashemi, FJI Februrary 2008) and Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinemas, LLC as majorly restructured by its Australian parent—also features the 70-seat Salt Ultra Lounge and 240-capacity Tanzy Restaurant for a total 42,000 square-foot space (3,900 sq. m.).

Each of the eight auditoria, which range from 72 to 92 seats for a total crowd of just under 700, offers two tiers of seating, with one-third going to Gold Class and two-thirds to Premium. According to the company publicist, Gold Class Seating includes reserved seating, valet parking, reclining seats, a pillow and a blanket, complimentary popcorn and in-theatre service. Premium Seating offers reserved seating and plush leather seats. In addition to a “full seasonal menu selection” that is available before, during and after the movie as well as “full service or grab-and-go,” guests in either section can select from a 130-bottle wine list, 30 wines by the glass, 13 beers on tap and eight by the bottle. “Yes, this movie theater has a wine-storage facility,” The Arizona Republic observed about “an all-glass, Las Vegas-style wine-storage closet in the restaurant.”

A local blogger raved, “This place is’s like the W Scottsdale mixed with a movie theatre.” And iPic itself proudly reported, “Within the first two days of opening, more than 13,500 Phoenix-area residents have joined the theatre’s free membership program, reaping the benefits…including Tuesday half-price menu items, birthday 2-for-1 ticket prices and pre-sale alerts for the hottest blockbuster movies.” With opening-weekend movies selling out and “over 2,000 tours of the facility and skyrocketing ticket and gift-card sales,” iPic declared, “Phoenix residents are truly embracing the experience.”

As with previous entries to this series, we can only feature a select and personal choice of projects that have come to the author’s attention. Obviously, the best way to be considered for inclusion is to send in information about what your company is doing.