With the gas fire burning and the lights down low, employees at Missoula’s new AMC theater donned their corporate attire on Saturday for a practice run ahead of Monday’s grand opening.
The new theater, complete with nine auditoriums and nearly 1,000 seats, marks AMC’s newest dine-in location and the first of its kind in Montana.
“There’s only one theater in town, and they wanted to bring this dine-in experience to this area,” said Jay Lamelas, director of dine-in operations for AMC. “This will be the first in Montana. The closest dine-in theater with the AMC brand would be in Denver, so it’s very exciting for the city.”
Lamelas, dressed in a black suit and tie for Saturday’s soft opening, arrived from Kansas City to prepare the theater and its workforce for business. The kitchen staff alone includes 30 people, though that’s less than half of the theater’s entire workforce.
“Overall, it takes about 75 people to run the theater, making sure all the positions are taken care of,” Lamelas said. “It takes about seven managers to run the operation.”
While a movie is still a movie in the end, the new dine-in product brings the latest technology to the theater experience. The screens are rounded to accommodate today’s film formats, and the plush stadium seating fully reclines.
To summon a server, a movie-goer simply pushes a button at his or her seat. The menu runs the gamut from Cobb salad to flatbread pizzas, chicken wings, fish and chips, burgers, quesadillas and Asian steak and shrimp bowls, to name a few.
There are also sweets and treats, including molten chocolate churros and milkshakes. Adult beverages cover a list of white and red wines, as well as craft beers and imports.
“Essentially, you’ll have a server with you for the full two-hour movie period,” Lamelas said. “The guest has told us that’s what they want. They want to maximize their time because everyone’s on the go. They want to see their movie and have dinner, and do it in the comfort of nearly being in your own living room.”
Preparing and delivering the food takes a small army of workers and the kitchen itself sits central to the larger theater. When an order is placed by a customer, Lamelas said, the server sends it digitally to the kitchen, where it appears on a screen over the appropriate station.
Once the order is filled, the server delivers it to the guest, still seated in his or her recliner. The menu prices are comparable to other bar and grills in Missoula, with a “royal” hamburger running $12.99 and ultimate nachos starting at $10.99.
“With the new aspect of having the kitchen, it’s almost like you’re running a restaurant with a movie theater in it,” said Lamelas. “It’s almost like you have nine different dining areas to manage with one kitchen.”
While the lobby includes a bar and a lounge, the nine auditoriums really complete the theater experience. The largest seats 250 people while the smallest seats 62, though the stadium seating and reclining seats offer ample legroom.
Gone are the days of turning sideways to make room for a late-arriving movie-goer. Four of the theaters are also fitted with 3-D technology, and all have ear-blowing sound systems.
“We’ve been doing this concept for about eight years already,” Lamelas said. “We started it in Kansas City, where our corporate offices are. From there, it has progressed, and now even our competitors are doing the dine-in concept.”
The new theater continues the renovations taking place at Southgate Mall, where the owners have launched a multi-phase plan to transform the dated property into something of a town center, complete with new amenities, attractions and, eventually, housing.
“We’re really excited to bring this new concept to the area,” Lamelas said.
This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.