Pics part of tasty plex potpourri

Moviegoing experience enhanced by inhouse restaurants , child care centers

Saturday nights at the movies are rarely like this.

Walk through the entrance to the lobby, and you’re greeted by music from a baby grand piano. Relaxing on an overstuffed couch sounds nice, but instead you purchase movie tickets at an electronic kiosk, where you can reserve your favorite seats and order concessions at the same time.

Arriving early, you visit a full-service restaurant and bar and order up a martini — apropos since the new James Bond pic has just opened. Take advantage of free Wi-Fi access to check email and, as showtime nears, head toward the auditorium, where you slink into a high-back leather seat and thank the server for bringing your beef Wellington, vegetable quesadilla and another round of drinks, just before the show is about to begin.

Afterwards, it’s time for a nightcap at the theater’s coffee bar with a cup of joe from Starbucks or some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

That’s the kind of experience that awaits moviegoers at National Amusements’ Cinema de Lux 14: the Greene, which opened in August in Beavercreek, Ohio. It’s what the chain’s VP of operations, Bill Towey, likes to think of as the theater of the future.

“Most people go out to eat either before or after the movie, so it’s maybe a 3½- or four-hour evening out,” Towey says. “What we’re trying to do is absorb that entire evening adventure by having all of those elements (in the theater and) ready for them.”

Some of the amenities at the Greene have been around for a while (reserved seating, for example, dates back decades), but the combination of all of them under one roof is a rare but growing trend. National Amusements has 11 other CDL-branded theaters, including the Bridge in Los Angeles, which is especially popular with moviegoers in their 20s and early 30s.

Meanwhile, Harkins Theaters is going after the mom-and-dad market with supervised play centers at seven of its newest cinemas, including an 18-plex that opens next month in Chino Hills. While parents catch a first-run feature, children (ages 3-8) can do arts and crafts, watch Disney movies, play videogames or do other activities for $6.

“For the price of a baby sitter for one hour, parents can have their child in a superior environment that’s safer and have change left over to buy a popcorn,” says the chain’s president and owner, Dan Harkins. “The only problem we’re having is that a lot of kids don’t want to leave when their parents come out of the movie.”

Besides the play areas, youngsters also have strong feelings about movie snacks.

“Chocolate seems to be out for kids,” says Larry Etter, VP of concessions at Memphis-based Malco Theaters. “The biggest movement in candy, for the newest generation of moviegoers, continues to be the sugar and sour items.”

So what else is in? Doughnuts, about the size of a half-dollar, warmed in a toaster oven and then covered with sugar and cinnamon. There are 12 to a package, and don’t even ask about the calories or fat content.

“The healthy concession items are just fads,” Etter says. “People continue to entertain themselves with fun food.”

What never seems to go out of fashion is saving money on buying snacks at the cineplex. While most chains offer combo deals, AMC Theaters expanded on that with last month’s introduction of a value menu that allows customers to choose from a list of 10 popular items to create their own combinations. The items are $3 each or three for $7.50 (or less depending upon the location).

“It’s akin to a value menu that you’d see at McDonald’s,” says AMC chairman Peter Brown. “It’s the core: wet, salty and sweet. You can get the combination of the three food groups, if you will, in a value way.”

Back at National Amusements, the chain is looking to build on its Cinema de Lux brand with a concept it expects to launch next fall in Florence, Ky., outside of Cincinnati. Often called CDL 2.0, the theater will have, in addition to the current list of amenities, an outdoor dining area, an indoor club room and an entertainment zone in the lobby where customers can use specialized kiosks to download movie-theme ring tones to their cell phones, create their own CDs and perhaps even purchase soundtracks or DVDs.

“We want to give people a reason to come to the theater, not only just for the movie but for other things as well,” Towey says. “That’s our goal.”

What: ShowEast
When: Oct. 23- 26
Where: Orlando, Fla.
Who: 1,300 attendees

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