Dinner at the movies

I think we can all agree on one simple fact, the vast majority of geeks love films. That almost all of the top ten grossing films of all time are geek focused, or at least geek friendly attest to that.

And going to see films in the theater is still a big deal. My friends and I are already making our plans to go see the Avengers.
Unfortunately there is a sad truth we have to face. Movie theaters are an at risk industry. First off you have the competition for entertainment dollars with Streaming movies, rental, and gaming. Add to that that theaters don’t see much profit on sales. The truth is that in most cases the theater only gets 10% on the ticket sales.  It’s considered a general truth that movie theaters are in danger and you see more and more closing due to this. Theater owners are left trying to find ways to keep in business.
One model that is seeing some success is combining movie theaters with full service restaurants.
If you are not familiar with this concept it works something like this. You come to the theater, buy your ticket and go sit down as normal. There is often a cabaret style table in front of your seat and a menu. After you are seated a server will come and take your meal order. Food will be delivered directly to your seat. Many also have a way to order during the movie using slips that does not interfere with the viewing experience. About a half hour before the movie is over they will bring you the bill.
No, really.
There are two national chains that I know of that are doing this right now. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Cinebarre. There is a theater called Gold Class Cinema which is a subset of Village Cinema that does this, with a twist. More on that later.
Right now Alamo Drafthouse has theaters in Texas and Virginia; it is looking to expand shortly to New York, California, and Colorado. Cinebarre has locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
Before going forward I want to point out that I have been a regular at the Puget Sound Cinebarre for the last two years, but I have never been to an Alamo Drafthouse. Cinebarre was formed by a former Alamo Drafthouse co-owner so I imagine that the experiences are similar, which my research backs up..
So will this model help keep theaters alive. Right now the potential is certainly there. The big thing here is the revenue source. Having a full restaurant and a bar that can serve beer and wine provides a good profit margin. The other thing a theater like this can provide is customer loyalty.
Both chains are very proactive about in theater etiquette. Alamo Drafthouse has made national news about the ways they have dealt customers who will not stop talking or texting. I have personally witnessed Cinebarre ejecting a rowdy group that would not shut up. I don’t know about you, but right there you have my vote.
Another advantage is there is no need to sell commercial space. Nether chain has commercials on screen other than previews and the occasional promo for things like local film festivals. Instead you get shorts, often themed to match the movie.
And let’s be honest here, we have all had that experience were you go out and get dinner before the movie and due to slow service you start worrying you will miss show time. Obviously not an issue if dinner is served at the theater.
Speaking of dinner, let’s talk about the food. Again, I have not been to Alamo Drafthouse so I have no personal experience, but my understanding is that it is very similar to what I have had at Cinebarre. The food I have had is good quality diner food. It is burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and chicken strips. I have always stated that it is the exact quality I expect for what I pay. I took a friend there once and he was expecting to just tolerate his burger. The quote when he took his first bite was “holy crap, this is a good burger.”
Also this model can take advantage of another sad trend. Multiplexes are closing down. Well that leaves open buildings perfect for a remake. The Cinebarre near me use to be a Lowes multiplex. They just took out one theater and made it the kitchen, and remodeled the rest to include the tables and space for the servers to walk. Every time I hear about a theater closing I think here is a chance for a new theater/restaurant.
I mentioned earlier about Gold Class Cinema and that there was a twist to how they do it. In their case they are prompting themselves as a luxury movie experience, with recliners in place of theater seats, state of the art technology and high end food. But this comes with a price. At Cinebarre I pay the same for a ticket as I do at most other theaters in the area. At Gold Class I would need to pay $30.00 to get in.
I feel I have been spoiled by the Cinebarre in my area and in the two years since I discovered it I have seen all of three movies elsewhere and two of those were IMAX. And in the third case I found myself becoming annoyed by the commercials and the crowd.
So in the end I am going to admit I like this trend. It is a way to keep the theater going experience alive and thriving. I fully expect that in about five years we will see this trend expanded and much more common. I have yet to take someone that has not loved the experience and now have several friends where it is our default theater.
Of course I really want to get a chance to go to an Alamo Drafthouse at some point to compare the two.

Food of the Geeks

One dream everyone of any sub culture has is the dream of a hangout, a place where you can just be yourself and be surrounded by people who share your interests.  A lot of sub cultures have these kinds of places. My sister, the queen of all Goths (no really, I have evidence) has introduced me to many clubs that cater to her scene.  There are also country/western bars, sports bars, punk bars, and new age coffee houses.

What all of these places have in common is a source of revenue that is not directly tied to the sub culture they are catering to. The reason you need to have that revenue source is simple. You need to pay the bills to keep the space open so that we can have our great hang out.
Well, what about geek culture? Where do we get to hang out?
Conventions don’t count. There are events that happen at specific times and then are over.
For a lot of us the hang out of choice has been the local comic book shop. It has the prerequisite source of income and some of them even have places to sit.  But it is missing something that all my other examples had; a product that can be consumed by someone that has dragged there by a friend.
I’m not a Goth, but thanks to my sister I have found myself in more than one Goth club. Even though I am not Goth, I can still get a drink.
If I drag someone not into geek culture to a comic book shop what are they going to do? Hang out and listen to me argue the merits of the DC new 52 with the other guys there?
It’s not like there are geek themed bars and restaurants out there.
Or are there?
Remember in my Power of the Geek post, where I said that the geek vote is a powerful thing and gaining its good will can bring great success.  Well of late some enterprising nerds have realized this, and have created themed establishments meant to cater to the geek crowd.
In New York you have The Way Station, a bar where you have steam punk weapons over the bar and the door to the restrooms is a replica of the TARDIS.
Here in the shadow of Seattle, the geek capital of the world (apparently there is now a study backing me up on that) we have the AFKtavern.  It is a geek friendly restaurant and bar. It is heavily gaming themed, but they have a broad appeal to the geek spectrum. It is well lit, has good food, and you can order games from a menu that they will bring to your table.
I’ve never been to the Way Station so I cannot speak from experience, but they have good reviews so I will say give them a glance if you are in the area.
The AFK I can say does hit the nail on the head as far as being a geek hangout. As I said earlier, they have a source of revenue separate from the geek culture, that being their food, which is pretty good.
But you also have to play to your culture. As I stated earlier in addition to food and drink they have games on the menu. Everything from Apples to Apples to Munchkin, to D&D. They have a vending machine that has dice and Magic: the Gathering cards.  A couple of the tables are big enough for food and gaming books and maps.  They also have banks of console games. Lately when I have gone in there is usually someone playing Skyrim. Then menu itself is a lot of fun as they give a geek spin to everything on the menu. Garlic Cheese bread is called Dwarven Battle Bread and the chili cheese fries are fries +2. One of the popular drinks is called the Arrow to the Knee.
Theme nights are big there too. Cosplay is also encouraged. I have yet to go in there and not see at least a few people in costume. I think it was brave on one soul to come in dressed as a ninja on pirate night. The week of Norwescon when half the staff was at the convention it was meat on a stick night.
The one drawback I see is the curse of a successful idea. It is often packed on the weekends and unless you call ahead you can wait well over an hour for a table. I know that doesn’t sound like a problem but if walk-ins can’t get in they will just leave and then warn their friends away. It’s a fine line that a business like this has to walk and while it is going well so far I do hope they are looking at ways to deal with this for the future.
Overall my hope is that this trend will continue and we will see geek themed clubs and restaurants becoming more common.
There is another offshoot of this that needs to be looked at. The movie theaters with full service restaurants, but that will have to wait until next week.