It’s a classic date-night dilemma. How can you make sure you finish at the restaurant in time to head over to the theater for the movie?
Increasingly, the new wave of movie theaters lets you get both dinner and a show in the same place. Sundance Cinemas started the trend in Madison in 2007, selling wraps and sandwiches (and wine, beer and cocktails) at the concession stand that you can take into the theater.
The newly remodeled Marcus Point Cinemas followed suit last year by adding the Take Five Lounge, allowing audience members to take alcoholic drinks, pizza and sandwiches into the theater with them.
But the new Marcus Palace Cinema, which opens Thursday in Sun Prairie, ups the ante. In four of its 12 screens, customers can have a full menu of food – burgers, appetizers, salads, even a slice of chocolate lava cake – delivered by a server directly to their seat.
Just in time for the summer movie season to officially kick off this week with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatres is opening the Palace at 2830 Hoepker Road in Sun Prairie. The company quietly closed its longtime east side Madison theater, Eastgate Cinemas, on Tuesday night, and was busy Wednesday making sure the Palace was ready for the hordes of moviegoers.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Palace general manager Tom Reichelt, formerly GM at Eastgate, beaming like a proud papa.
The new theater, Marcus Theatres’ first since 2007, has been in the works for seven or eight years. Marcus Theaters CEO Rolando Rodriguez recalled working the concession stand at Eastgate as part of the company’s “Founder’s Day” promotion, and the reaction from customers.
“The first question was curiosity about who I was,” he said. “The second question was ‘You keep saying you’re going to build this new theater. When is it going to happen?’”
The 12-screen theater continues the current trend in moviegoing away from building 24 or 30-screen multiplexes and focuses its energy (and revenue streams) on making the experience for moviegoers are pleasant as possible. As viewers flock to watching movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime, industry analysts believe movie theaters need to press their advantage at being a going-out destination.
“There are no more bodies coming through the door," Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley & Co., told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. "So you have to find something to get them to come back more often or pay more."
Like Point, the Palace Cinema has its own Take Five Lounge, but in an upgrade that’s new for Marcus, will also include an outdoor seating area with a fire pit for warmer nights. Before or after the movie, customers can linger with a cocktail, such as the “Avengers”-themed Hulk Smash, a fruity mix of Amsterdam Red Berry vodka, melon liqueur, mint, orange, lemon and lime. (It tastes like an alcoholic melted melon-sicle.)
If more traditional movie munchies are your bag, there’s a full concession stand with popcorn and milk duds, as well as a new high-tech soft drink kiosk that Marcus insists offers over 1,000 drink combinations, like raspberry Pepsi or orange lemonade. (Sadly, the computers in the kiosks prevents you from choosing any truly weird combinations, like strawberry root beer.)
Once inside the theater, moviegoers can relax in luxurious red leather recliners (already available in the Point Ultrascreen) and enjoy movies presented in Dolby Atmos sound in any of the theaters. The new system, which was just introduced at the Point Ultrascreen last year, features 40 separate speakers, each with its own amplifier, surrounding the viewer.
The upshot is that sounds can “travel” around the theater – in the demo reel shown to media, the sound of a dragonfly flitting its wings could be heard zipping back and forth behind the viewers.
“Everything is coming from different places, so it’s very precise,” said Mark Collins, Marcus director of projection technology. “It’s a very different kind of sound system experience.”
But it’s in the four Big Picture Bistro theaters where Madison moviegoers will truly get a different kind of movie experience. Each of the reclining seats also has a retractable tray and a side table featuring condiments, utensils, napkins, and a red button. Press the button, and a server will come out and take your order, then whisk your food to your seat.
Theater employees said that patrons should ideally arrive to the theater about 30 minutes early in order to get their food delivered by the time the movie starts. But waitstaff are available throughout the movie to take orders, bring refills and deliver the check.
Palace Cinema is the sixth of Marcus’ 55 theaters to offer Big Screen Bistro service. While one might think waiters darting in and out of the theater would be distracting, Marcus officials say the waitstaff has been trained to be in “stealth mode,” wearing dark uniforms, staying low, and speaking quietly. They’re like ninjas, but serving mac-n-cheese bites.
Palace Cinema will officially open its doors Thursday with a 4 p.m. double feature of both “Avengers” movies, followed by a full slate of movies on Friday. Rodriguez said it was fitting that the company was debuting its new generation of theater in Sun Prairie, as Marcus debuted the Ultrascreen DLX recliners at Point last year.
“It is very befitting that here we are in Madison’s sister city, introducing the icon theater of this company,” he said.