Movie and a Drink: Local Theaters Add Alcohol Option

March 6, 2019

A new date night idea has emerged that has the whole date in one location.

Theaters around the country are making big changes to attract more customers. With movie theater attendance hitting a 25-year low in 2017, many movie theaters added something new to their services: alcoholic beverages.

One theater franchise, Alamo Drafthouse, helped jumpstart the trend back in 1994 with the motto “good food, good beer and food film, all at the same place.” At Alamo, movie guests can order from their list of crafted cocktails, snacks and even dinner right from their seat. There’s also a bar and restaurant to have your dinner and a movie all in one place.

Alamo has their system down to a science. This is how it works: Sit down in your recliner seat, write your drink or food order on the provided paper, slide the order into the holder and wait for a server to quietly pick it up.

According to Alamo Chief Operation Officer Bill DiGaetano, Alamo seeks to educate its moviegoers with their uniquely strict policies. Some of these policies include no texting, no talking, no late seating and even no crinkly popcorn bags — served in metal bowls to avoid any loud distractions.

“Guests get one warning, then they will be kicked out” said DiGaetano. “We want [customers] to rat out people.”

The Texas-based chain now has 25 locations all over the States. The first Minnesota location officially opened at the shopping center, Woodbury Lakes, in 2018.

It’s likely helping to inspire other movie theaters, all around the Bold North, to join the alcohol-friendly movement or at least consider doing so, lest be left out of the competitive environment.

Theaters like Marcus Rochester and Emagine Lakeville are now allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold to customers. The weekend after Labor Day, Cannon Valley Cinema 10 in Dundas started offering beer and wine at their location.

“We did it so we could offer what everyone was offering in the cities,” said Dennis Haines, the manager of Cannon Valley Cinema 10. “We also received a lot of requests from customers too because they were used to going to the theaters that offered it, and people really seem to be enjoying it.”

He added, “It seems like that’s the way theaters are going now, especially ones in the cities. We’ve been getting a lot of requests for it.”

Although this trend has increased movie attendance and concession sales, the main concern has been keeping movie theaters family-friendly. Because of this, theaters like Cannon Valley have adopted a “two-drink minimum” for all of their movie-goers.

“We try to monitor it carefully,” said Haines. “We want people to be able to enjoy a drink or two without getting overly intoxicated.”

They’re also not serving hard liquor – at least not yet.

“I feel like this is where we want to be. We really don’t want to get into the hard alcohol, unless we did a remodel and made a bar somewhere,” Haines said.

According to Haines, there haven’t been many complaints from customers about the new policy. He says the theater is still able to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere, while letting legal guests enjoy a cocktail; employees are already required to ID customers for R-rated movies, and having to ask for ID when alcohol is involved is no different.

As the world becomes more globalized and information spreads fast, rural business is increasingly affected by metro business. Trends that start in densely populated areas often trickle their way out to the more rural areas, and Northfield/Dundas is one of the first stops in Southern Minnesota.

“We’re close enough to Burnsville and some of these places that we feel like the demand is enough to keep pace with the metro theaters, and we need to offer that,” Haines said. “That’s why we went with luxury seating [when the theater first opened]; people are getting more used to that.”

No doubt, other theaters will be making the same considerations that Cannon Valley did. Many theaters out of the metro (and in) are still holding off on the drinks, preferring to maintain a more family-friendly atmosphere. None of the three theaters in Mankato, for instance, offer drinks.

But things change quickly, and business leaders, including those in the movie industry, will absolutely do what’s needed to keep up in the marketplace.

First it was the reclining chairs, now it’s alcohol? What might the next move be for theaters in a battle to stay relevant in the streaming era?

We can leave those decisions to the people making them. For now, let’s just enjoy a movie — happy hour and munchies galore. Cheers!


By Abby Patterson

SouthernMinn Scene | |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057