Powered reclining chairs, four-star food offerings, lots of liquor and reserved seats. That’s first-class international flying, right?
Yes, or going to the movies in the Sacramento area.
Over the past several years, the area has seen an influx of movie theaters offering customer-pleasing perks to bolster comfort and satisfy the appetites of people who venture outside their homes to take in the latest films.
In September, plans were unveiled for the Century Arden Movie Bistro scheduled to open next summer in the Howe ’Bout Arden shopping complex in Sacramento – right next to the perk-laden Century Arden 14 and XD movie theater complex. The Bistro will include a full kitchen offering a food/beverage menu, powered reclining chairs and reserved seating.
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The Palladio Luxe Cinema, offering upscale food/drink amenities and powered reclining seats, opened in Folsom late last year, about the same time as Century Arden 14.
Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill made headlines when it opened its dinner-and-a-movie concept in Rocklin in December 2014. Last year, it became the first theater in the region to offer a full-service bar.
Following an extensive renovation, Woodland’s historic State Theatre reopened to the public in July this year, featuring a 60-foot-wide screen and electric recliners with wooden trays to hold beer, wine, sandwiches and salads from the theater’s in-house café.
What’s next? Manicures and massages at your seat as you watch the latest “Mission Impossible” offering?
“Maybe not that, but I think you will continue to see small independents and major movie house chains ramp up their customer-service offerings,” said Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert.
Mark Zoradi, CEO of Cinemark, parent of Century Theatres, is among those who last year acknowledged the ever-increasing competition for the entertainment dollar: “People have a lot of alternatives (about) where to spend their free time. Everything from staying at home and watching television to going out to some other form of entertainment.
“If we want to continue to motivate people to go to the movies, we need to make that movie-going experience really good.”
Steven Birenberg, president of Evanston, Ill.-based Northlake Capital Management, agreed, saying there is relentless pressure to “put more fannies in the seats because (theaters) make money on the concessions.” And he adds: “There is more competition for consumer attention. There are hundreds and hundreds of TV shows of better quality than we’ve ever had. And you can watch recently released movies from the comfort of your home.
“There are all sorts of modern entertainment options. You can even add regional casinos to that.”
Birenberg closely watches investment activity and stock performance among the large movie theater chains, including Texas-based Cinemark Holdings Inc., Tennessee-based Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Holdings, headquartered in Kansas.
All three faced economic headwinds over the just-completed summer blockbuster season, which Hollywood sources called the worst in a decade, with a year-over-year decline of more than 15 percent in domestic revenue.
AMC shares took the biggest hit on the stock market, falling more than 40 percent between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Over the past decade, the volatile industry has responded with a blizzard of in-house perks that aim to keep moviegoers coming through the doors.
Along that line, Arden Century Movie Bistro set to launch next year will feature a full kitchen offering an eclectic menu, where consumers can order fish tacos, pizzas baked in a wood-burning oven and more from their seats. An upscale, full bar serving beer, wine and cocktails will be available in the lobby. The theater will feature reserved seating and online ticketing, enabling patrons to lock in preferred seats.
So, how do Sacramento-area moviegoers like the enhanced amenities? A random sampling of consumers who talked with The Sacramento Bee in September offered mostly positive reviews.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Roseville resident Patty Murphy, joining friends last week for dinner and a movie at Rocklin’s Studio Movie Grill. “It’s a natural. Dinner theater has been around for years … I’m surprised this wasn’t done by more movie theaters a long time ago.”
Angela Owens, a 40-year-old Sacramento resident who has visited Studio Movie Grill and the Palladio Luxe Cinema in Folsom, said both offer “a great experience.” Owens added: “Honestly, I grew kind of tired of $10 popcorn and $5 (soft drinks), and I was really happy when these (theaters) started opening … and gave me something more.”
On his movie night out at the upscale Palladio shopping complex, 38-year-old Folsom resident Carlton Hayes said the Palladio Luxe “is just more inviting. You get customer service … You’re not fending for yourself, spilling popcorn and syrup all over the place.”
Not everyone endorsed the enhanced movie theater offerings. Citrus Heights homemaker Virginia Smith said she goes “to a lot of movies, and I like the simple experience better … I want to concentrate on the movie, not other distractions … There are too many distractions at movies already, with phones and people crunching on popcorn and ice.”
Beyond the upgraded in-house options, some analysts say the financial future of movie theaters might boil down to something more basic: the movies.
“Millions of dollars were spent on stadium seating (years ago), and that didn’t work out so well,” said Northlake Capital Management’s Birenberg. “There’s a school of thought that says, ‘It’s the movies, stupid.’ ”
And Birenberg warns that box office trends are an unpredictable science. For example, on the heels of a relatively miserable summer box office season, the horror movie “It” rang up nearly $270 million through Sept. 25. That made the film, based on the Stephen King novel, the top-grossing horror movie of all time, not accounting for inflation.
And while it was hammered by the critics, the R-rated spy comedy, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” opened the Sept. 22-24 weekend with a robust $39 million. The box-office boost pushed up shares of major movie theater chains by double digits to close out September.
“So, in one month, things changed. That’s the nature of the business,” Birenberg said.
A cinema deluxe timeline
Dec. 2014: Studio Movie Grill, a Texas company started in 2000, brought its dinner and a movie concept to Rocklin. In 2016, the theater became the first in the region to offer in-theater dining with a full service bar.
Nov. 2016: The Palladio Luxe Cinema, offering upscale food/drink amenities and powered reclining seats, opened in Folsom. The Century Arden 14 and XD movie theater complex also opened at 1590 Ethan Way in Sacramento, touting powered reclining seats called “Luxury Loungers.”
July 2017: Following an extensive renovation, Woodland’s historic State Theatre reopened, featuring a 60-foot-wide screen and electric recliners with wooden trays to hold beer, wine, sandwiches and salads from the theater’s in-house café.
Sept. 2017: Plans were unveiled for the Century Arden Movie Bistro scheduled to open next summer in the Howe ’Bout Arden shopping complex in Sacramento. The Cinemark chain of movie theaters said the local site will include a full kitchen offering a food/beverage menu, powered reclining chairs and reserved seating.