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Theater giant AMC expands dining options

AMC Entertainment Inc. is ramping up food and beverage service in its cinemas, with plans to expand its dine-in theater program to between 40 and 60 of its properties.

Kansas City, Mo.-based AMC debuted a cinema with a three-tiered dining program this week in West Orange, N.J., and has similar openings planned this year in Bridgewater and Edison, N.J., and in Grapevine, Texas. The openings will bring the number of AMC's dine-in theaters to seven by year-end.

“We do plan on aggressively opening these dine-in theaters,” said Justin Scott, spokesman for AMC, who declined to discuss financial results. “Obviously they’ve performed well.”

AMC is entering a stage already populated with such theater-and-dinner operators as Alamo Drafthouse Cinema of Austin, Texas; Cobb Theatres/CineBistro of Birmingham, Ala.; Gold Class Cinemas of Los Angeles; Movie Tavern of Dallas; and Studio Movie Grill, also based in Dallas.

AMC, which has 380 cinemas worldwide, already has dine-in theaters at the AMC Studio 30 in Olathe, Kansas, the AMC Mainstreet in downtown Kansas City, Mo., as well as the first AMC Fork & Screen Buckhead in Atlanta, which opened in 2008.

The company's dine-in theater concept includes premium dining in the Cinema Suites for a $15 "experience" charge added to a typical $10 movie ticket, or casual dining at Fork & Screen for an added $10 per ticket. The experience charges are deducted from the final food-beverage bill, AMC said.

In addition to the in-theater dining, AMC's food and beverage program includes the bar-lounge MacGuffins — named for a plot device popularized by director Alfred Hitchcock — offering food and drinks for before and after movies.

The just-opened West Orange location has four auditoriums in the premium Cinema Suites option, featuring reserved seating with seat-side service in luxury recliners. The menu includes Bleu Cheese Chips, priced at $8.49; Blackened Salmon, $12.99; and Lobster Ravioli, $17.99. Guests must be 21 or older.

The five Fork & Screen auditoriums are more casual with table-top dining. The menu includes Crab Rangoon Dip, $7.99; Thai Coconut Chicken Tenders, $11.99; and Chocolate Loving Spoon Cake, $6.49. Guests must be 18 or older unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Scott said the dine-in theaters have allowed the chain to appeal to the consumer trend of desiring more choices.

“Guests love the choices of being able to go to a movie and get dinner and a drink,” he explained. “They also like an adult-only environment. In the Cinema Suites, you have to be older than 21 years old to go in.”

They consider the theater experience in creating the menu, Scott said.

“With dim lighting, you might want to offer a steak on your menu, but it’s difficult to see and cut and trim,” he said. “So what we developed was tenderloin tips with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. It’s cut up, so people don’t have to worry about cutting it in the theater.”

The MacGuffins bar-lounge and menus also localize the beers and some drinks, Scott said.

AMC, which has been operating theaters since the 1920s, offered foodservice in some units before creating its own proprietary brands, Scott said.

“We’ve been for the last 10 years or so running some in-theater dining sporadically throughout our circuit of theaters,” he said. “Some of these were inherited from other movie-theater chains that we acquired.”

AMC’s stronger emphasis on food is partially a product of executive hires over the past two years, Scott said. Gerardo Lopez, who was named chief executive and president of AMC Entertainment in February 2009, had been an executive at Starbucks Corp. and Seattle’s Best Coffee. George Patterson, AMC’s senior vice president of food and beverage, which includes concessions, was hired earlier this year, and he most recently served as director of brand asset strategy and multi-brand execution for the KFC division of Yum! Brands Inc. Jason Henderson, AMC’s director of theater dining, most recently served as a corporate chef for Applebee’s International.

Generally, the dine-in theaters are taking about a third of the auditoriums in a typical 30-screen location. At the Grapevine, Texas, location that will open in December, 13 of the 30 screens are adapted to the food and beverage design, AMC said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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