When Jeffrey Katzenberg is quoted as saying, “I am one hundred percent sure that these theaters are the future of movie-going,” you assume that he is talking about 3D, maybe with HFR and Immersive Audio. But in the case of this article in WSJ he is talking about another phenomenon that has grown in the shadow of digital – cinema dining.
Call it ‘bijou cinema’, ‘CinéBistro’ (™), or ‘CineDine’ (also ™), it is a phenomenon that rivals Imax for growth and even outpaces Immersive Audio installations. “These new theaters really up the quality of experience because they require a high degree of service that movie theaters have lost,” is Katzenberg’s opinion and the numbers seem to back him up.
By 2011 there were 300-400 such establishments in the US and today the figure is likely to have doubled, with the phenomenon starting to catch on overseas. As NATO President John Fithian said in his 2013 keynote speech at CineCon:
“The traditional popcorn and a Coke constitute our biggest sellers. But many modern cinemas offer additional items, such as salads and burgers, finer dining menus, and adult beverages. In many locations, it’s no longer “dinner and a movie”. It’s “dinner at the movies.”
By that he didn’t mean the perpetually re-heated hot dogs and nachos with a sticky yellow substance on them characterised as ‘cheese’. Taking its cue from the airlines industry, First Class has now arrived in the multiplex.
There are two divergent trends when it comes to premium cinema experience, typically built around fine dining. The first is dedicated stand-alone cinemas with only one or a few screens that typically show art house or niche films, sometimes mixed with popular and family fare. These cinemas had traditionally had a bar that permitted the selling of alcoholic beverages or at least a premium coffee counter, which over time expanded its offering and migrated them into the screening room itself.
Famous examples of this are Alamo Drafthouse, which was founded in in Austin, Texas in 1997 and has now spread to nine locations. As the company’s Wikipedia page notes:
The company began as a second-run movie theater, and distinguished itself by the food and drink service offered inside the theater, including cold beers. The seating is arranged with rows of cabaret style tables in front of each row of seats, with an aisle between each row to accommodate waiter service. Customers write their orders on slips of paper, which are picked up by black-clad waiters.