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Why Cineplex put the adult back into entertainment

Movie goers take in a movie in this file photo.

Jim Ross/The Globe and Mail

Cineplex Inc. is rolling out more theatres aimed at adults-only audiences, as it seeks to draw free-spending grown-ups with a movie-going experience that is heavy on the amenities – and short on some of the irritants that keep them at home.

Liquor licensing restrictions will keep teenagers at bay, while high-end services such as reserved seating, personalized food and drink delivery, and enhanced dinner menus are designed to make moviegoers feel like VIPs.

The move is part of an industry-wide foray into offerings that increase the bottom line even as the number of tickets being sold stubbornly refuses to budge.

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"I think a lot of baby boomers will love the opportunity to go to the movies and have a drink and some appetizers and not have to deal with teens," said Cineplex vice-president Pat Marshall.

Such fare is a growing trend in the movie business.

Cinépolis, a Mexico-based chain that expanded into Southern California last year, offers an extensive gourmet menu that includes an artisan cheese plate, truffle and porcini ravioli, and burrata cheese with a balsamic glaze. Auditorium seats are equipped with call buttons similar to those in airplanes that summon staff known as "cast members."

While Cineplex's offerings aren't as extensive, it has hired a corporate chef to beef up its menu – Dane Higgins, formerly with Pickle Barrel Restaurants.

The company has dabbled with the adults-only concept at theatres across the country. With the new additions, it will have at least 12 cinemas that include VIP auditoriums.

It will add three adults-only screens at Toronto's SilverCity Yonge & Eglinton cinema, along with a purpose-built five-screen 21,000-square-foot facility at The Shops at Don Mills, set to open in late 2014.

The economics are compelling – Cineplex posted a $47.3-million profit, or 34 cents a share, in its most recent quarter despite total audiences holding steady at 17.1 million. It did that by selling premium tickets for enhanced experiences and digitizing its theatres to cut down delivery costs.

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Adults-only moviegoers will pay significantly more. While adult general admission tickets in a downtown Toronto theatre cost $12.99, the price is $15.99 for either a 3D or UltraAVX showing (reserved seating and a bone-rattling sound system), and $19.99 for Imax showings. VIP seats at a Coquitlam, B.C., theatre go for $19.50, a $7 premium above general admission.

Premium tickets comprised 36 per cent of Cineplex's box office. The average customer spent $4.66 on concessions, the highest amount recorded by the company.

In the United States, even large chains are experimenting with concepts that allow them to charge more for movies. AMC, which until recently owned theatres in Canada, is experimenting with a "dinner and a movie" concept at about a dozen locations across the United States. The packages are targeted at adults who find it difficult to get out of the house at night owing to childcare issues or work commitments, and want to eat a decent dinner at the same time as they watch a new release.

"You come in and you sit down and there's a menu at your chair," said Ryan Noonan, a director at the Atlanta-based theatre chain. "It's the type of food you'd expect at a restaurant. People do dinner and a movie all the time, so combining the two made a lot of sense to us. People don't have the time they once did."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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