- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008


When the AMC Studio 30 Fork & Screen opens Friday in suburban Kansas City, moviegoers will get to sample a lush life not normally associated with a megaplex.

Most of the 30-screen complex still features popcorn, to be washed down with soda in theaters with masses of stadium seats. However, 11 renovated and redesigned auditoriums offer - for a premium - padded recliners, alcoholic drinks and a full kitchen making Parmesan fries, Thai coconut chicken and Darkiccino chocolate brownies.

“This will be a great draw for customers who want an upscale experience,” says Andy DiOrio, a spokesman for Kansas City-based AMC Entertainment Inc., which plans to include elements of Fork & Screen in many of its more than 350 theaters.

So-called cinema eateries have been around for decades, but they have gained ground in recent years as theater operators look for new ways to attract customers, especially older moviegoers who have more money but less tolerance for the junk food, uncomfortable seating and rowdy teenage crowds that typically populate multiplexes.

In an industry that makes about a quarter of its revenue and about 40 percent of its profits from food, giving customers an excuse to splurge more on treats and drinks is a hefty incentive to rip out the seats and go upscale.

The entrance of major chains, such as Regal Entertainment and AMC, the top two U.S. operators, will broaden the appeal of such theaters, says Patrick Corcoran, a spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners. He estimates that about 7 percent of theaters offer expanded menus.

“One of the reasons I think you’re seeing this is there’s been an increase not just in the number of older adults but in the number of older adults going to movies.” Mr. Corcoran says.

He says that although he is optimistic about the big chains’ chances, they have to watch out for the pitfalls of the restaurant industry, where profit margins can be much smaller than the nearly 70 percent margins theaters see selling popcorn and soda.

AMC experimented with the Fork & Screen concept in the summer at a theater in Atlanta but considers the opening at Studio 30, the company’s flagship theater, the best test of how consumers will embrace the idea. “We feel we’re on the right track with this step,” Mr. DiOrio says.

Fork & Screen is built around a central bar and lounge called MacGuffins. While ticket prices in eight of the 11 auditoriums are the same as in regular theaters, in three, called CineSuites, prices are $10 higher. Those suites offer more intimate and comfortable seating. All 11 auditoriums offer menu items ranging from $5.29 to $11.59 a plate plus beer and wine.

“Dinner and a movie is one option,” Mr. DiOrio says. “If you want to have a drink after the movie, we have that too.”

Village Roadshow’s first location, in South Barrington, Ill., opened three weeks ago and offers movies in eight theaters built around a cozy foyer and bar. Customers reserve seats online for one of the 40-person theaters, staffed by servers in black suits. The menu leans toward the gourmet - Wagyu beef sliders, for example - with some dishes approaching $20 and a wine list including bottles costing hundreds of dollars. Tickets cost $22 to $32 - high but not much more than seeing a movie and going to a restaurant afterward.

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