AMC’s “Dine-In” Theatre Delivers a Big Wow

I could probably look at your Netflix queue and tell whether you’ll go gaga over the new AMC Dine-In movie experience at Essex Green depends. If you’ve got “Eat Drink Man Woman” or “Babbette’s Feast” or your list, the oversized reclining seats and Applebee’s-inspired menu will probably not appeal to you. But if you like movies with car chases and explosions, onion rings, and a sense that you’re the master of the universe — or you mourn the death of Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse — you won’t be able to wait for the opening this Wednesday.

I’ll admit, I fall more into the former category. I didn’t expect to like “Iron Man 2,” the fare that AMC selected for my eyes at the blogger preview up at Essex Green last night. Seriously, the idea of a guy dressed up like a four-year-old boy’s shiny action figure is not my idea of cinematic anything. But Robert Downey Jr. was surprisingly charming, and so was the seating at the movie theater’s more upscale dining option, Cinema Suites, which feels like a professional screening room or the home entertainment system in your rich cousin’s mansion. Tickets to the 21-and-older screening room are $25, which includes a $15 food credit, and even if you didn’t want to ingest a single calorie — let alone the hundreds that come in just about every appetizer — it might be worth the money just for the feeling of being pampered. My suggestion: you either succumb happily to the Thai Coconut Chicken Tenders ($11.99) or the Crab Rangoon Drip ($7.99), or sit back in your plush reclining seat and put your money towards the hard liquor. With a designated driver, of course.

Here’s how it works. There’s no open seating. All seat must be reserved, like on an airplane. The five Fork & Screen auditoriums are less plush and allow humans under 21, but are still plenty impressive. They look like the kind of place that Steve Jobs might unveil the iPhone 5, and costs $20 a ticket, with $10 credited to food. Four Cinema Suites auditoriums are considerably cushier, and cost $25, with $15 credited to food. It’s the cheapest way I can imagine to make you feel wealthy. They even serve your Diet Coke in real glasses. And that, I think, is the genius of AMC’s formula. Whether you like the food or not, it’s a pretty low surcharge to get the feeling of flying first class.

Waiter service is fairly unobtrusive, especially when they’re serving your row-mates, but it’s a bit annoying to be watching the movie and having a waitress point to a dish in the dark and ask if this is your order.

There’s also MacGuffins, a full-service bar that replaces the old snack bar, where you can meet before, after or instead of going to a show.

By the way, on the suggestion of Chef Jason Henderson, I tried the Blackened Salmon ($12.99) available only in the Cinema Suites. It was quite tasty, as were the mashed potatoes, but the sugar-snap peas were soggy re-heats from the freezer. But after having sampled the Bleu Cheese Chips appetizer ($8.49) he also recommended, I didn’t have room for than a few bites.

Full disclosure: AMC picked up the tab for me, my guest and all of the bloggers who attended.

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  1. My boyfriend and I have been dreaming about something like this! We will gladly pay a little extra money for a better movie watching experience. Can’t wait to check it out!

  2. Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea but I give them props for trying something new and wish them well. My biggest bugaboo about this would be well, bugs. I hope that whomever cleans up afterwards does a good job lest they be visited by uninvited critters. I can just hear my mom yelling at me to not eat in the living room. 🙂

    The decor is adorable but yeah, I am not sold on their movie choices.

  3. Not going near this place. I’m recovered from an eating disorder and a room full of people who need the oversized reclining seats to eat in the dark for 2 hours will be the end of me.

    Way to go in helping that obesity epidemic AMC !

  4. LOL, Kay, my thoughts exactly. If the slurps, lip-smacking and plate-clanking are not being made my own family, I don’t wanna know about it. 🙂

    The older I get, the more I look forward to spending an evening at home with Netflix.

  5. Won’t this be awkward for people who go to a movie alone? There’s nothing wrong with doing something alone (I grew up an only child and am able to easily), but this will alienate solo movie patrons.

  6. The dining and movie together doesn’t have any appeal for me as well. Some were pointed out here and are quite valid, as reasons of concern. I can only say that for anyone who felt Charlie Browns smelled foul can look forward to the same phenomenon occuring. Only this time the theatre will also offer surround smell in 3-D! Great concept, hope it works.

  7. Just went to a similar newly-renovated movie/restaurant in New Orleans. No telling how things are at AMC, but in that New Orleans theater the food service is quiet and unobtrusive, mostly service before and money-collecting after the movie. Heck, we’ve all been to music clubs where food and drink are being served throughout the concert.

    Reaction from my friends when AMC first announced this renovation: Thank God, now we can do both dinner and a movie without paying the sitter an entire year’s college tuition.

  8. The fried food menu isn’t terribly appealing, but I can see why they do it. I think it sounds like a fine idea, especially for those of us who have to hire a babysitter. And the large seats sound great, if only for more elbow room away from other patrons. I’d probably end up ordering a drink with the credit, and maybe some Twizzlers. Mmmmmm. Twizzler straw for a Martini.

    $10 for the “experience” is cheaper than a lot of movie places, isn’t it?

  9. Ha, I love it. Once again, my Southern experience proves just how behind the times the Northeast in general and New Jersey in particular can be. Orlando has had The Enzian theater for more than two decades. It’s a tucked-away little art-flick house in the suburb of Maitland that has served food in a cinema fully equipped with nothing but dining tables and plush seating. And you needed no reservations and paid nothing extra to get in.

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