The AMC Downtown Disney 24, which is actually a movie complex and not a group of defendants, will premiere its newest Dine-In Theatres on Monday, May 16. What’s an AMC Dine-In Theatre, you ask? Well, it’s a theater, albeit misspelled, that you dine in while watching a movie. You probably could have figured it out if you had just given yourself a little more time. I’m not judging.
I was able to get a sneak peek -- let’s call it a preview -- of the newly redesigned theaters that will allow full-service dining, complete with full liquor bar and wines by the bottle, to guests who choose this dinner and a movie option. The AMC Downtown Disney 24 has set aside one quarter of its theaters -- that’s six; try to keep up -- for the Fork & Screen concept.
That Fork & Screen designation is different from AMC’s Cinema Suites concept, which is exclusively for patrons 21 and over. The F&S concept is for guests 18 and over or -- and here’s the qualifier -- accompanied by an adult. So, yes, squalling babies may be admitted as long as their 18 year old parents are there to try to shush them. Did I mention this is at Disney? ( The Cinema Suites adult movies houses -- why does that sound wrong? -- are in other communities and are not offered here.)
The theaters are set up with rows of four seats on one side of a long table so that everyone can face the screen. A press release for new theaters specifically touts tabletop dining, which is so much better than the alternative. Actually, this may be a difference in set-up from the existing Dine-In Theatres. Photos provided in a media kit show movie-goers seated in typical theater seats with more of a tray like device to eat on. At downtown Disney, the the restaurants provide a bigger dining surface (which appears to be fashioned out of particle board). There is soft indirect lighting under a rail in front of the table to allow you to read the menu during the show and to see what you’re eating. And no, the lights don’t go out during the movie. The seats are large, spacious and comfortable, at least for reclining -- you’ll probably have to scooch up and sit on the edge of your seat to eat, whether you are watching a thriller or not.
Each row of four seats has two buttons to call a server should you wish to order something after the
movie begins. You know, like maybe a vodka tonic for the squalling baby next to you. Just kidding.
Oh wait, that reminds me, the food and beverage director for this concept is the former corporate chef for Applebee’s. Jason Henderson told me that he was wooed by AMC and invited to the corporate headquarters, which are located, as you would expect any company specializing in the display of Hollywood movies to be, in Kansas City, MO.
Henderson’s menu is not the most exciting but is ultimately what you might expect. Here, click this link to download a copy for yourself. You’ve got your loaded potato skins, your chicken wings and your crab Rangoon. (Henderson was very proud of the fresh sourcing of the crab that AMC has arranged, stating that it isn’t frozen until it gets to the AMC commissary.) Some things, such as the fruit salads and sprig of basil on top of the flatbread, are done fresh in-house at each theater.
House specialties include chicken tenders, Thai coconut chicken tenders, Buffalo chicken tenders and fried shrimp. There are also sandwiches: chicken wrap (untendered, I assume); prime rib griller. And burgers and flatbread pizzettas. You may also order for delivery to your seat conventional snack bar items, such as Junior Mints, Milk Duds and popcorn. The latter is $6.99 but includes free refills, to which I would say, damn well better. Appetizers, by the way, range from $6.59 to $8.99 and entrees are $8.59 to $11.99.
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I sampled a couple of the flatbreads and the mac and cheese item. Let’s just say they weren’t what I would call boffo. Henderson’s team has an impressively large kitchen -- about what you would find in an Applebee’s, he said -- to work with, so you’d think they would be able to come up with some good stuff. And maybe they can. I just sampled the stuff that they put out for us media types, you know, to impress us. (We were invited to stay for the full experience and a screening of “Tron,” but I declined. I mean, come on, “Tron?”)
But here’s where I think AMC is missing out. It should be offering special menus based on the movies that are being shown. How cool would it be to change the menu to reflect the movie that’s being shown? For “Julie & Julia,” for example, you could feature boeuf Bourguignon. For “Babette’s Feast,” turtle soup. And for “Eating Raoul”...well, maybe that’s not a good example, but you know what I’m getting at. Or for a movie like “Sideways” they could serve tastings of the wines featured in the movie. But, no plans, I’m told.
The idea of a dine-in movie theater is not foreign to Central Floridians. Enzian has been doing it for years, and is famous for the servers presenting the check and asking patrons to settle up precisely at the movie’s denouement. At AMC, the check will be present discreetly -- AMC spokesman Ryan Noonan was very specific about that word -- toward the end of the movie (yes, perhaps at the climax, the final chase scene or the denouement), but guests may settle up when they prefer, even during the final credits.
Some other tactics to reduce annoyance during the movie include high seat backs to muffle and noise from the diners behind you, and dinnerware fashioned out of bamboo and melamine to prevent the clacking of flatware on conventional china. Most menu items, Henderson told me, are designed to require a minimum of cutting. (See references to chicken tenders above.) That's also good because at least one of the tables I inspected shook and squeaked when touched.
By the way, there is also a lobby bar called MacGuffins, a term that will be familiar to students of Alfred Hitchcock, although why the bar is named that is a mystery. Then again, that may be the point.
The AMC Dine-In Theatres will likely be an attractive option for people who want to see a movie and get a bite to eat but don’t want to waste time doing one after the other. They’ll find acceptable things to eat here. But wouldn’t it be much more enticing to produce such good food that people would want to eat there regardless of the movie?