AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

Summary: AMC's Dine-In Theatre seeks to re-invent the movie-going experience with in-theater dining, cocktails and waitress service right from your seat. But in the face of On-Demand streaming content and inexpensive, high-definition home entertainment technology, is the movie theater still viable?

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AMC's Dine-In Theatre seeks to re-invent the movie-going experience with in-theater dining, cocktails and waitress service right from your seat. But in the face of On-Demand streaming content and inexpensive, high-definition home entertainment technology, is the movie theater still viable?

Like many Americans, I love going to the movies. There's something special about the entire experience, sitting in the dark theater with a huge screen, booming sound system, munching on popcorn, and being in a large venue where you're sharing the experience with others.

Movie-going has been practically a cornerstone of American society -- more marriages and long-term relationships have probably started from "dinner and a movie" than any other. I myself can attribute the first date with my wife to going to a movie some 16 years ago. I even remember what film we saw -- Star Trek: Generations. The movie was so awful, I'm surprised I even got a second date.

However, no matter what the American attraction to the movies may be, theaters themselves have been in decline, ever since home entertainment technology entered the picture, starting with the VCR and VHS video rentals in the early 1980s.

Nevertheless, the box office and the traditional theater was still king because you really couldn't replicate the in-theater experience at home, despite the advantages of being able to pause and rewind the film, provide your own food and refreshments at significantly lower cost, and stay at home with your family.

Also See: AMC Dine-In Theatres (Gallery)

Also See: AMC's "Dine-In" Delivers a Big Wow (Baristanet.com)

With the introduction of the DVD, cheap High-Definition video televisions, inexpensive surround sound and now On-Demand video from suppliers such as NetFlix, Amazon Video and Apple TV, the home movie-watching experience is now at a point where one could argue that it's actually superior to going to the average movie theater.

The realities of the current economy adds additional pressure when you consider that the typical movie-going experience is $12-$14 per ticket plus $10 or more per person for concessions, not counting going out for a meal with your family or date.

On-Demand and Pay-Per-View/Subscription content from Amazon, Netflix or your satellite TV/cable provider is considerably cheaper, if you factor in a entry-level home theater investment of about $2,000 (including HDTV, receiver/amplifier, surround speakers, media player/streaming devices) and an average play cost of about $5.00-$10.00 per premium film, provided you aren't just watching stuff on basic cable or premium content packages like HBO or Showtime

To fight back the Home Theater onslaught, the Box Office has had to do a number of things in order to stay relevant in the digital, On-Demand age. The first of which was renovating many theaters for Digital Cinema, which began as a result of George Lucas releasing the Star Wars prequel films in digital format in 1999. This technology upgrade included HD digital projection as well as THX-certified and/or SDDS sound systems.

With the full DTV conversion in the summer of 2009, many consumers went out and purchased HDTV equipment, which has significantly come down in price in the last several years. The Box Office then needed to pull another trick out of its sleeve -- by focusing a lot of its forthcoming releases on 3D digital films, such as Avatar.

Not to be deterred by this, the home entertainment industry and TV manufacturers began to release 3D HDTV technology this year, but the sets are still considerably more expensive than their regular HD counterparts. Still, we can expect that 3D capability will become a regular built-in feature in even basic HD sets in the next few years, which leaves movie theaters with few compelling technology improvements to continue to bring in the throngs of moviegoers.

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If the basic technology in the movie theater can't compete with the home, what does the Box Office do? well, it has to re-invent itself completely, and provide services you can't get at home.

Along with a group of local New Jersey and NYC bloggers, I recently had a chance to experience AMC's Dine-In Theater at the Essex Green shopping center in West Orange, New Jersey, which opens for general audiences tonight. Two more locations are scheduled to open in New Jersey in the next several weeks, and three other locations have recently opened in Atlanta, Kansas City and Olathe, Kansas, with a Grapevine, Texas location due for opening in December as well.

The basic concept is thus -- the "Dinner and a Movie" has now been combined into a single experience, where your every whim is catered to. Instead of just popcorn, sodas and candy, the theater now offers a complete menu of pub-type food as well as alcoholic beverages, with items similar to what you'd find at a TGI Friday's or a Bennigans -- fried appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, chicken fingers, wings, salads, and other types of finger-food stuff.

All of this food and drink is consumed directly from your seat, and is ordered via waiter/waitress service, who are manned with wireless POS terminal devices which place your order before the movie, and can be called at any time to get you additional food with the push of a button.

AMC provides two distinct experiences for the "Dine-In", depending on your taste. The first, the "Fork & Screen" is for general audiences, and unlike a traditional movie theater, anyone under the age of 18 has to be accompanied by an adult which is at least 21 years of age.

That means no giggly teenagers going on dates unless they're with their parents or another guardian. The Fork & Screen costs $10 for the movie per person, and AMC charges an additional $10 "Experience Fee" for each person which is essentially is a credit towards your food and drink, a minimum charge.

The "Cinema Suites" is a more high-end affair, and the one which I had a chance to experience. The minimum charge is an extra $5.00 per person, and only adults 21 and over are allowed. In a Cinema Suite, each patron is given a huge, motorized La-Z-Boy-esque comfy chair that can recline up to 180 degrees, so you can lie back with your feet up and drink/munch up at the same time.

In addition to the regular TGI McFunster's selection of food, the Cinema Suites have premium dinner entrees and snacks for order, such as Bacon Bleu Cheese Chips, Fried Calamari, Lobster Ravioli and Sirloin Steak Tips.

I admit that the pampering at the AMC Dine-In is extremely alluring, particularly if the idea of being a complete Nero-esque couch potato in full mushy recline while the waitstaff brings you anything you desire suits you. But there's a couple of problems I had with the experience, even though I really did enjoy myself and I probably would do it again.

First is the issue of the level of distraction by having servers interrupt the film. If you do this, you're probably going to want to order all your stuff at the beginning, so that all your food and drink is delivered to you before the film starts. Otherwise, it gets annoying when the servers come to take your order, and then another one comes back to deliver it and tries to figure out who ordered what, despite the fact that they had an advanced POS system which was supposed to sort it all out.

The group of us watched Iron Man 2, a film my wife and I had already seen, so we were really focusing on the Cinema Suite experience and the quality of the food and service itself. However, if I had really cared about the film, I'd probably be annoyed with servers walking in and out and in front of us constantly.

Then there's the issue of the "food in the dark" think itself. You really can't see what you're eating (in the photos I took for the Gallery I had to use external illumination) and a lot of the food is ... drippy. Most of the items have some kind of dressing or a sauce, so inevitably, you're going to get some of it on you, especially if you're leaning back in your seat.

Dine-In Tip: don't wear anything that you don't care about having to spray some stain remover on and sending through the wash. I was also somewhat disappointed that there weren't more healthy or more interesting options available, but then again I'm a foodie and not the average American moviegoer.

One advantage to the Dine-In concept is that unlike a regular movie theater, you have to purchase and reserve your seats on-line, or at the theater with some additional advance notice. This is similar to buying tickets on an airline or for a Broadway show, where you get to pick from a seating chart, so there's no surprises when you get to the movie and only the front eyestrain or the nosebleed section seats are available.

Of course, this also means you can't really do a Dine-In as a spur of the moment thing, although I suspect some sort of iPhone/Android/Smartphone application is probably due where you could check the available seats with 2 hours or less notice.

AMC has obviously taken a big risk with this concept, particularly in the midst of when Americans are tightening their belts and are spending more and more time at home. Generally speaking, I'd have to say that the Dine-In is a fairly decent value, particularly if you do the Cinema Suites, as it really isn't more expensive then going out to a regular movie and ordering a popcorn and soda and candy for each person. The $15 above the ticket price essentially covers one beer/cocktail and one other item for each seat.

Still, it's the kind of thing my wife and I would really only do occasionally, and not as a regular thing. When we want to go out to the movies, it tends to be really only for a film we actually care about, so we're probably going to eat at home or out to a restaurant first, and we also tend to go to matinée showings on the weekend.

I also don't see it as a full dinner replacement -- the food choices are a bit too downscale and too QSR/chain-style to compete with our regular routine of going out for Chinese Food, Sushi, or whatever. I could definitely see doing this maybe a few times a year, where we'd order a few drinks and maybe a snack or dessert each, and for films that we really aren't too concerned about concentrating our attentions on, and this might be what a lot of patrons end up doing.

Whether AMC can make a sustainable business out of the Dine-In is another matter entirely. They've had to sacrifice a lot of the box office seats in order to accommodate the Fork & Dine/Cinema Suite theaters, so I'm sure they are counting on much higher concession orders than at a typical movie theater to make up for it. I'm skeptical, but there's always hope that the movie theater will always be around.

Are you interested in trying AMC's new Dine-In? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

[poll id="25"]

Topics: Collaboration, Microsoft, Software

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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24 comments
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  • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

    I've tried the dinner and movie thing at a theater in upstate NY. It was a decent dining experience, you eat while you watch the movie. I can't complain about that, and lighting wasn't bad, you could see your food. The problem I face now is that I'm getting cheap, so if I go to a movie its to the matinee for $6.50, then get the large popcorn and drink combo for $10 (plus unlimited refills of both!) so that covers lunch. Between that and a blockbuster subscription its rare for me to go to a movie at night. I might try the AMC dine-in if they bring it to this area and if they are running a special deal.
    Loverock Davidson
  • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

    A couple of bars here (Bradenton FL) have movie nights - food at regular prices, and they show Blu-Ray movies instead of sports on their many big screens. We've to a few. $10 - $15 for a burger and a couple of beers, no charge for the movie, just as there was no charge for Bucs games on TV before the NFL decided people in the Tampa Bay region shouldn't watch football on TV.
    robin@...
  • Did this 10 years ago in Milwaukee, it was great!

    My wife and I experienced this in Milwaukee in 2000. It was great. You purchase your tickets and are told when to arrive. The restaurant is inside the complex but separate from the theater. You have choices similar to an Outback or Red Lobster. The fare is good and the cost is reasonable. Your waiter notifies you when the movie is ready to begin. You take your drinks with you (including wine, beer, mixed drinks, etc.). The chairs are wide leather chairs that recline about 45deg (assuming 90deg is lying flat). Popcorn is free and there's a dedicated concession stand just outside the theater door for candy, additional drinks, pretzels, etc. so no waiting. The theater only seats about 30-40 people so it's cozy.

    The cost was about the same as typical dinner and a movie, but no driving from the restaurant to the theater, you can finish your alcoholic drink while watching, free popcorn, dedicated concession stand, and wide comfy chairs. Oh, and no kids. I think you could even get additional alcoholic drinks at the concession stand. I miss this since I was only working a temporary contract at the time and live full-time in the Philadelphia area. I was wondering when someone would get the idea and open something like that in the Philly/NJ area!
    gigglypuff
  • Options

    Yes, you *can* just Netflix all your movies nowadays, but it's amazing how some people like to leave the house once in a while.
    doodlius
    • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

      @doodlius Did that save Video Arcades?

      People forget that we've faced a very similar situation with them. The games were better than home machines at the time (and would have stayed better--as the tech improved at home it would have improved even more in arcades). But what happened is that people decided the home games were GOOD ENOUGH. And the desire simply to "be out" wasn't enough.
      Snark Shark
  • I guess she is just as "geeky" as you, Jason!

    With every new technological wonder, someone predicts the end of the line for what came before it.

    At the turn of the Twentieth Century, the movie theatre was going to replace the live performance. Sound was added, and later color, and yet, live performances are still being presented today.

    In the 1950's, the TV was going to replace the movie theatre.

    Along came color, then stereo sound. Then BetaMAX & VHS, DVDs, HDTV and Blu-Ray - and now digital streaming!

    Each successive advance brought the medium to more people. People for whom the original was out of reach - for any number of socio-economic reasons.

    It's no different today. You still cannot beat a live performance - be it music or play. People still flock to plays and to concerts.

    Movies are the next best thing but the technology offers so much more than could ever be presented in a live forum.

    Undoubtedly, the per-event price of a movie on DVD/BD or streamed to your HDTV is far less costly than going to a movie theatre. Still, the HDTV (with Cable or Internet service) offers the viewer 24-hour access to virtually anything you want. For a low price, but it is still not the same experience as the Movie theatre (with or without food).

    Dinner and a movie is still legitimate dating fare and, I expect, will remain so for the foreseeable future.

    Further, the movie theatre will remain the place to go for the latest in whiz-bang special effects (at a premium price, of course) for a long time to come.
    M Wagner
    • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

      @mwagner the only problem I have with this argument is that in the case of movie theaters versus the home theater, there's very little value add coming from the movie theater over the home, per the technology that is currently available versus what was available twenty years ago. It's not the same as comparing it to a live performance which is always going to be technology resistant.<br><br>The only thing you get from a movie theater as a value add is how current the movie is. The actual experience is easily comparable at home with a minimal capital investment. The gap has closed so much between in-theater and at home that it's going to be very difficult for traditional movie theaters to survive.<br><br>Movie theaters were profitable because they could continue to draw in repeat customers. It was huge in the 1950's, 1960s and 1970s, less so in the 1980s and 1990s, and went into very sharp decline in the last decade. 3D films and IMAX is what draws people in now, but how often do people want to see these things in order to sustain a business?
      jperlow
      • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

        @jperlow

        Bull. The size of the screen and the clarity and power of the surround sound system in a theater can't come close to anything in a home.

        Here's an interesting chart that shows ticket sales and revenues for the past 15 years: http://www.the-numbers.com/market/
        aep528
      • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

        @aep528 if you are 6 to 10 feet away from your 42" or 52" TV, the relative size difference between a theater and your home setup is nearly imperceptible.

        I won't argue that a large theatre has a huge sound system. But how huge do you really need to have a good surround sound experience in the home? A few hundred watts, tops? If that?
        jperlow
      • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

        @jperlow aep528's argument is totally specious because... the world doesn't all have the same priorities as him.

        People don't give themselves reality checks when they emotionally insist that just because something is BETTER, that its going to survive economically. Well economics don't particularly CARE what's "better"--its often all about what people are willing to settle for (and thus pay most often for). Yes, theaters have bigger screens and better sound. Of course they do. But the number of people who PRIORITIZE only watching a movie with optimal sound and picture is, and will continue to shrink. People often gravitate towards "good enough" rather than "optimal". Especially in a bad economy.

        Ticket sale revenue no doubt is holding around the same point, as aep528's linked article shows. But that's probably because the prices have gone up out of proportion. Plus, its still pretty early in the cycle--if theaters are going to fail its going to be a long slow decline, not a rapid one.
        Snark Shark
  • New Jersey is behind the times

    Alamo Drafthouse, in Austin Texas, has been doing this for years. Get there 45 minutes or so before the movie starts, order your food, get served, watch the movie. And they have awesome shorts running while you are waiting for the main event. And, yes, it is a fun evening.
    bmeacham98@...
  • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

    It sounds to me like free market is doing what it does best. It is driving innovation. As home theaters improve and decrease in cost, movie theaters must innovate to stay relavent. In genearal it is great for everyone. Better content at home and better content at the theater. Its a win-win.
    treyedean
  • Why do we have HDTV

    Before NTT invented HDTV viewers were surveyed on what they most wanted improved in television. The vast majority said "better writing". Very few said "higher resolution pictures" (or any non-geek variant thereof). So what did we get? Higher resolution pictures and bigger screens.

    If the movie industry wants to survive it needs a value add which is not higher resolution pictures, or badly muddied 3D renditions of poorly written scripts, especially when the film is a 2D movie "rendered" into 3D. Better picture and sound is nice, but is also technically able to be presented at home. However, it is really tough to get competent chefs and waiters to come to your home and serve you a meal in your home theater. At least for most of us that is out of our price range. A dine-in theater is not.

    About twenty-five years ago I went to a theater doing this (it is not even a vaguely new idea) in Edina, MN. The food quality was poor, and the facility was not well maintained or clean. I liked having a meal option with my movie, but I did not like the theater operation, and did not go back. Apparently neither did anyone else, because a few months later they closed up for good.

    This idea, like so many, will not succeed or fail on the innovation of the idea, but on the quality of the delivery. That will vary from one location to another, primarily on the basis of the location management. The managers who know how to run a quality operation will succeeed, and the others will move on to their next method of failure.
    gardoglee
  • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

    Jason:

    Let the Geekfest continue. I guarantee this is worse than Star Trek Generations, but you can have dinner around the block at 5 Napkin Burger or Hell's Kitchen before hand.

    http://www.start-trekkin.com/CALENDAR.html
    fredknows
  • Been there - done that

    This concept has been around for years in multiple variations ... seen some with more upscale food/seats, others more pub-like. All are okay; but despite the attempt to minimize intrusions, it's still distracting to have the server taking orders and/or delivering food to the table ahead of yours mid-way through the movie.

    This isn't a big deal for films that require little concentration (comedies, etc) ... but for more involved story lines or action films, it's annoying to be constantly pulled out of the immersion into the film-world.

    It's a fun experience to do once in a while with a small group of friends - but the negatives mean that for me, it just doesn't replace the standard movie experience.
    D.Barek Evans
  • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

    "Nevertheless, the box office and the traditional theater was still king because you really couldn?t replicate the in-theater experience at home, despite the advantages of being able to pause and rewind the film, provide your own food and refreshments at significantly lower cost, and stay at home with your family."

    Honestly, I don't think that movies are gonna stay in business long with some of their practices that sorta ruined the experience - especially the food experience, the worst part of seeing any movie.

    . . . and it appears the rethink still needs some work. You may be a "foodie," but it does sound like your complaints are legit, and it does sound like things still need a lot of tweaking.

    . . . and I don't really think the solution is really to offer a new style of premium movie experience, but to improve the regular movie experience, which frankly sucks.

    A premium service will only get people with premium pocketbooks. They need to rethink the regular experience as well.
    CobraA1
  • AMC can ruin a good thing!

    bmeacham98@... is correct. I first experienced this 15 years ago in Salt Lake City. Pool hall/bar in the lobby, theater and food inside. Even backwards Houston has several. It is cheaper to get REAL food plus beer at these for less money than overpriced stale popcorn and drinks at AMC. Even the ticket prices are $1 to $2 less than AMC for the same movies running at the same time (not 6 months later).
    kd5auq
  • OT: Dinner and movie horrible first date

    We've all done it, but to be honest, going to a movie is a horrible first date idea. The whole point of a first date, is figuring out if you want a second. How are you going to do it while sitting in a dark theater for 2+ hours and not talking. And what if halfway through the appetizer during dinner (before the movie) you realize you don't want date #2. You feel obligated to spend the additional 2+ hours together. Not too mention a bad or awkward (uncomfortable) movie can ruin an otherwise good date.
    jshaw4343
    • RE: AMC's Dine-In Theatres: The Movies' Last Stand at the Box Office?

      @jshaw4343 that's why you take her out to a nice dinner first :)
      jperlow
  • It can be really good...

    Combine micro-brew, great pizza and/or good tex-mex with fun second run (only $3.50) movies (or art flicks, or classic movie night) and you get The Bear Tooth Theatre. (http://www.beartooththeatre.net/) Highly recommended if you make it this far north!
    cmollerstuen