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To Dine or Not To Dine: A Look at AMC's New In-Theater Dining

11.18.2010

Just yesterday, we posted an article "AMC starts serving food in theaters, delicious or distracting?" Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to be invited along for a trial run of one of AMC Theaters new "Dine-In Theaters" in New Jersey to find out the answer to that question myself.

The Dine-In Theaters feature two types of theaters: The Fork & Screen and Cinema Suites.

The Fork & Screen theaters are set up very much like the Alamo Drafthouse. They call it "table-top dining" but really what you have in front of you is a long bar-style bench that spans grouped rows of four. It seems designed almost specifically for families though larger families will obviously have to split up (which may cause some issues). These theaters seat approximately 150 guests and you must be 18 or older unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.


A look inside one of the Fork & Screen theaters

The Cinema Suites theaters seat less than 50 guests in the same size auditorium as the Fork & Screen theaters so you can imagine how much extra space there is. There is approximately 9 feet of room in between your seat and the seat back in front of you. (NINE feet.) The extra-wide leather seats that recline back so far you can sit (or lay?) almost perfectly horizontal. Your food tray slides over your lap from the partition next to you, not unlike what you have on an airplane. There is a small, dim light next to each seat with a call button that allows you to page your server in case you need another beer or a refill on your popcorn. Guests at this theater must be 21 years or older and will be carded upon entry.


A look inside one of the Cinema Suites theaters

While you can show up and buy a ticket as you normally would for a movie, they recommend you pre-purchase your tickets online so you can take advantage of one of my favorite features: reserved seating. Just like you'd choose your seat preference when booking a flight, you'll be able to see a map of the entire theater and reserve your seats when you purchase your ticket. Then you show up to "Guest Services" (instead of a bank of registers and cashiers, there are just two concierges at the front of the theater) and retrieve your tickets with your seat number printed on them.


Reserving your seats online

The menu at both theaters is casual American fare, similar to what you'd get at an Applebee's or Chili's, and Cinema Suites has some added specialty items like Lobster Ravioli and Blackened Salmon if you really want to get fancy. The theater lobby lacks a traditional concession stand so your in-theater server will also bring you soda, Milk Duds, popcorn with extra salt or whatever classic theater items you're used to.

As for pricing, you might think that getting a beer at a movie theater (where a Coke can run you upwards of $5) might break the bank but it's actually quite reasonable. I got a Bud Light at the lobby bar (winkingly titled "MacGuffins") for only $3.50. If you cut out alcohol, you can get two appetizers, two entrees and one desert for under $45, which is about the average for a night out at a restaurant.

Beer, comfy seats, no kids, servers bringing you soda refills...what could be better?


I'm maxin' and relaxin' in my Cinema Suites recliner

Unfortunately it's not all roses. In theory, it's a great concept. Reading about it initially and reading what I'm writing now almost has me convinced I had a positive experience. Sadly though it wasn't all positive.

Yes, the Cinema Suites seats were insanely comfortable but is in-theater dining worth the money?

The problem is that this theater caters directly to movie lovers. I can't imagine the casual moviegoer dropping $10 for a ticket and then the $10/$15 surcharge for Fork & Screen and Cinema Suites respectively. So movie lovers, of which I am one, tend to want to watch the movie at hand. They'll, like me, hold in going to the bathroom until the last possible second so as not to miss a second of the film. But the AMC in-theater dining experience is less than ideal for movie lovers.

While I was told that food orders would be placed before the movie began, we were 10 minutes into the movie when the waitress finally came around to take our order. It's only by chance that I had seen IRON MAN 2 already but how irritating would this process be if you were trying to pay attention to the beginning of the movie while putting in a food order. It's a theater - a dark and loud room in which you're encouraged to be quiet - so there's quite a bit of squinting and whispering, not ideal for getting food orders correct.

Drinks were brought out almost immediately and appetizers shortly thereafter. After about 20 minutes though, my dessert arrived and later the server came with a check, thanking me for coming to AMC Theaters. All my food was itemized on the check but only about half of it actually arrived.

I'm not going to criticize AMC for screwing up my order. I understand that these types of mix-ups are an inherent part of the food service industry. It happens (especially during trial runs) and that's something I can deal with. The frustrating part is that when things like this happen, it's increasingly difficult to deal with in a dark and quiet theater.

There was a lot of back and forth and trips back and forth to the kitchen before our server was able to figure out that the food was never prepared. (This was not exactly rocket science but at least we were on the same page.) She politely offered to comp our meal (the meal was already comped...) and asked if I'd still like to have the order put in (I equally as politely declined).

And that's the major issue with AMC Dine-In Theaters. They mean well but ultimately the dining experience is far too distracting for most movie fans. Maybe it will all come in time. After all, I was at the theater a good three days before it was set to open to the public and there may be a bunch of kinks that will all be worked out. The Drafthouse offers food and drink but that ship sails a lot more smoothly and I'd bet that's from years of trial and error. The Drafthouse also benefits from a casual and communal experience. At Cinema Suites it's designed to have a more upscale feel and didn't carry that same Drafthouse atmosphere.


MacGuffins, the AMC theater bar

I like to go to the movies to see a movie. Having a beer or a snack is great but that's secondary to what I'm actually there for: watching a movie. Unfortunately at the AMC Cinema Suites, I wound up missing about 20 minutes of the movie dealing with a food order I didn't really need.

That said, the seats, legroom and assigned seating are almost worth the price of admission alone and if you only order candy and a drink, you can save yourself a lot of the hassle that comes with ordering a full meal.

I don't want to come down too hard on AMC because I love the concept here. That, for once, a major theater chain is catering to an adult audience is something I can get behind 100%. But I still think they need some work, especially in their new locations, to get some of the kinks out before I can give a solid recommendation.

Source: JoBlo.com

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