December 05, 2011

AMC's Cinema Suites Dine-In Theater Review

A while back we learned that AMC had opened a handful of dine-in theaters. We'd never been to a dine-in theater but we'd heard so much about the wonderful Alamo Drafthouse and hoped something like that would come to the NYC area. Recently we visited two of them: AMC's Cinema Suites at the AMC Essex Green 9 in West Orange, NJ and Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Both are quite different. AMC has two types of auditoriums in its new dine-in theaters: The Fork & Screen, which has traditional-style seating with simple trays, and the more luxurious Cinema Suites. We didn't try Fork & Screen but we've now been to the Cinema Suites twice and absolutely love it. The Nitehawk in Williamsburg isn't as luxurious as Cinema Suites, but the food is outstanding and on a totally different level.

We think the idea of eating in a movie theater (something other than popcorn, of course) is an exciting thing to happen to the moviegoing experience. We'll follow up with our review of the Nitehawk soon, but here now is our take on AMC's Cinema Suites:




Starting out, you can order your ticket online, and what's really nice is that you can reserve your seats in advance. I wish more theaters had this option, dine-in or not. If you order early, you can get the best seats. That said, the auditorium, while big, has only about 80 seats, and I don't think there's a bad seat in the room. You can also pick out your seats at the automated kiosk. There is a premium for the Cinema Suites experience - our tickets were $15. Keep in mind that this is in New Jersey where the ticket costs aren't at Manhattan levels. So $15 seems very fair. Right off the bat, one thing that's nice about Cinema Suites is that it's 21-and-over. No kids or rowdy teenagers, and they serve alcohol.

Upon entering the theater, you are greeted by an employee who will point you to your seat. There you will find an oversized leather reclining chair, your own personal (and movable) tray table, a menu, and utensils. To your left or right (depending on what seat you are in) there is a call button, some space to put  your purse or another small item, and salt, pepper, and ketchup. 


Everyone in the theater gets a cup of popcorn drizzled with chocolate (yum). Once you know what you want, you hit the call button next to you and somebody from the waitstaff comes to take your order. They enter everything in on a handheld electronic device so your order goes right to the kitchen.

Then, as you are enjoying the previews or the movie, your food comes. The food is fine. It's the same type of stuff you get at Chili's, TGI Friday's, etc. The menu is pretty extensive - they have hamburgers, pasta, flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, quesadillas, and so on. Even country fried steak with gravy and mashed potatoes (which was pretty good). There's also a variety of appetizers available - we recommend sharing because they're pretty big - and a big drink menu, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Even iced coffee drinks. And the dessert selection is good, too. In short, there's something there for everyone, and enough different things to try if you visit regularly. And of course, they have popcorn, candy, and everything else you can normally get at the movies.

What's nice is that it's priced reasonably. The food is priced about the same as Chili's or TGI Friday's. We were expecting pricing to be higher - after all, it's a movie theater. But no, pricing was fine. By our Manhattan standards, we'd even call it cheap.

The food came out pretty quick. Not that it didn't go off without a hitch, though. On our first visit, Mike's entree was served along with the appetizers, so Erica had to wait a while before she got her food. Erica's bad luck continued on our second visit, when they took an awful long time to bring us her Sprite. Also, they brought out the entrees for five of our party of six people, but took an extra twenty minutes or so to bring out Erica's meal - our waitress said that her order was lost. It was annoying to have to deal with that, but oh well... Poor Erica - hopefully her next visit will be better. And despite these complaints, we can't be swayed from our love for AMC's whole Cinema Suites thing... and here's perhaps the main reason why: 

The seating! After you eat, may we suggest reclining your chair back and relaxing with a foot rest and your head back. If the movie is not to your liking, you can easily fall asleep during the movie. The seats are so unbelievably comfortable that you don't want the movie to end. Even during J. Edgar, which was pretty long, we wished it had gone on for at least another half hour. The feeling of just sitting - or laying - there after you eat is wonderful. You're full, you're (hopefully) enjoying a movie, and you're completely relaxed. This might sound stupid, but there are few things that feel better than laying in a reclined Cinema Suites chair watching a movie on a big screen with a full stomach.

After your meal, someone from the waitstaff comes by with a hot towelette so you can clean up. All of this is done with minimal intrusion and disruption. Yeah, you notice the waiters walk by delivering food, and you can hear them whisper when taking an order. But it's all minimal. There's a bit of light coming from behind each seat so that you don't eat in complete darkness, but it didn't bother us.

Towards the end of the movie, your check comes along with a Ghirardelli mint chocolate. Make sure you give your AMC Stubs card - in addition to your tickets, you get points for the food you ordered. I ordered six tickets for our group and we ordered a hundred dollars of food. That netted me a nice $20 on my Stubs card, to spend on movie tickets or concessions.

Our advice for the best Cinema Suites experience:
-Get your tickets in advance and pick the best seats. We've been seated in the second and third rows and both had great views.
-Also, make sure you pick two seats together. All seats are paired, so in whatever row you are, pick seats 1 and 2, or 3 and 4, or 5 and 6, and so on, so that you actually sit with your partner.
-Bring your Stubs card - it's a quick way to earn points.
-We recommend getting there early and maybe trying to time it so that you eat your appetizer before the previews even start and get your main course as the movie starts. Put in your order as quickly as possible. That way you can eat and talk to whoever you're seeing the movie with, and you'll finish up your meal at the beginning of the film, allowing yourself to fully concentrate on watching the movie. And, if something's wrong it can be straightened out before the movie has started.
-Go to the bathroom just before the movie starts, and watch how much you drink so that you don't have to interrupt your movie with a bathroom break.
-Portions are huge. Definitely share appetizers and desserts.

We're probably coming off like AMC shills now, but we can't stress just how pleasant our two visits to their Cinema Suites has been and can't wait to go back. And that's despite them messing up our orders both times! Our four guests who came along on the second visit were also really impressed. There's really no better way to see a movie.

ABC News did a story on the Dine-In experience but they don't allow us to embed it. You can check it out here.


All photos taken from the AMC Dine-In Theater Site.



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