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AMC Theater to Close, Undergo Renovation as State's First 'Fork & Screen'

'In-theatre dining' that includes full-service bar to open in November

AMC Entertainment is giving New Jersey residents the opportunity to combine the date idea of dinner and a movie into a one-stop shop.

The movie theater giant is converting the Essex Green Shopping Center venue, 495 Prospect Ave., West Orange, into New Jersey's first and the nation's fourth entertainment eatery where movie goers can attend a film while eating dinner.

Susan Borg, the township's planning director, said the $5 million project will revamp the theater by November.

"They're reducing the seat capacity by 65 percent and replace the remaining 35 percent into luxurious seating with tables and waiter service," she said.

AMC did not return calls seeking comment, stating in an e-mail they will discuss the project when construction begins. The current West Orange theater will close for about four months, beginning in August, Borg said. She did not know a specific date or when construction will start.

In an AMC Entertainment planning booklet obtained by Patch, the concept of the theater is to "improve guest impression of the movie-going experience; maximize productivity at the theatre; and stem future attendance and revenue losses."

Borg said AMC is not reaching its revenue goal in that location.

"If they don't come up with something different, they would probably leave," she said.

AMC's interdisciplinary team visited the site in September to evaluate the theater in a more profitable way, according to the planning papers.

The other three eat-in theaters are in Atlanta and Kansas City. Atlanta's theater allegedly grew in attendance by 55 percent and one of two Kansas City theaters increased attendance by 8.8 percent, according to the AMC booklet.

The redevelopment will include three separate entertainment options, according to the AMC documents. The first is MacGuffins, a retrofitted concession stand that offers a full-service bar and lounge. The Fork & Screen is the main attraction and features "seat-side wait service at the touch of a button, while viewing new-release films," according to documents. Cinema Suites is similar to Fork & Screen, but these will have large electric recliner, articulating tables and side tables. Other renovations include converting the lobby with soft seating and new restrooms. AMC's planning booklet states there will be nine screens with new seats and tables to accommodate dining.

Additional redevelopment in the form of digital deployment will include 3D technology, digital technology, alternative content capabilities and conversion to, what AMC calls, "in-theatre dining." This digital deployment is estimated to cost $500,000.

The theater's seat reduction is significant, going from accommodating 100 guests in a theater to 35 to 50 guests, depending on theater size. "This allows for greater circulation of servers and guests," according to the documents.

The lighting also will be affected and be 10 to 15 percent brighter than a traditional auditorium, according to the booklet. This is to allow servers and guests to safely deliver and eat food.

An admission policy for the in-theatre dining is 18 and older unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. The Cinema Suites only are for guests 21 or older.

The food served is slated to be similar to that of Applebee's, Chili's and Outback Steakhouse, according to documents.

Borg said AMC will change the types of pictures they show at the theater.

"They plan to have a lot of family oriented pictures, such as 'Toy Story,' for parents to come with children," she said. "They also will have more independent film as seen in Montclair, as well as general pictures that are popular blockbusters."

AMC's documents do not state why West Orange was chosen for this theater project, but Borg said it's likely because of the area's demographics.

"Our demographics are very good, especially in a three-mile radius," she said, citing income levels.

A typical showing, according to AMC's documents, will be as follows: Within five minutes of seating, greet guest and place drink order; within 10 minutes of seating, drink orders are received and food orders are placed; within 15 minutes of food order, prepared food arrives; periodically during the film, consumed food is pre-busssed; within 30 minutes of end of movie, checks are delivered and payment collected; within 15 minutes of end of movie, receipts are delivered to guests.

Borg said this venture by AMC is likely to rival other theater industries. There is no other movie theater in West Orange, with the closest being Montclair or South Orange.

"This is a way of them making their mark in the movie industry and I don't know of any other movie companies that are doing it," she said. "It's a survival with a lot of competition."

Carla Schmidt November 19, 2010 at 03:11 AM
It was GREAT!! We always have a problem of movie times not working out with a time for dinner & now we don't have to. The prices really are good, $20 for the Fork & Screen (table & nice chairs) or $25 for Cinema Suites (amazing chairs that recline all the way back & extra menu options) These were the best!! (child ticket is $17.50 / $7.50 for ticket $10 towards food (upcharge for 3D movies) $10 goes for the tickets & the rest is applied towards a food purchase. The food is priced reasonable. The beers were only $5 (there is a full bar), that is less than the soda used to be. We used to spend $10 on popcorn & a soda easily & now it is better food. The food was surprisingly good with many options, we both had salads that were tasty & crab dip with crispy wontons, yummy. People keep saying that it isn't for kids but it is for FAMILIES, you just can't drop your teens off. There is a kids menu $6.99 includes drink, meal, candy & side (has a healthy option). We used to spend a lot more than that on junk. They have popcorn for $6.99, free refills. Also, the service wasn't distracting, they were pretty low key. Hint, sit a few minutes early & order you food before the movie starts & they will just drop off during the movie. ENJOY!
debie stein November 22, 2010 at 12:47 AM
This is an insane idea. The ticket for the movie is $20 before you even eat. JUST to get inside the theatre! No one wants a meal at a 3pm showing. We want to see a movie and have a popcorn! Everyone left before even purchasing these expensive seats and went up the street to buy an $11 ticket to the same movie. This is not an upper income area and cannot sustain these prices. We will go to South Orange, Montclair, or East Hanover. You should have the option of just buying a ticket for the movie without a $10 "surcharge". This was ridiculous. 20 other people walked away along with us, refusing to pay $20/per person to see a movie.
Pam November 28, 2010 at 12:36 AM
When we used to go to the movieswith my 2 daughters before the AMC Dine-In, the the tix were $10 each and we spent another $30 or more junk from the concession stand(candy, popcorn, nachos, drinks). The bill was about $60 for the 3 of s and they always wanted something "real" to eat afterward, which added another $25 to the bill for fast food. I LOVE the AMC Dine-In! I pay another $10 (my bill after the credit) got good food and sawa fun the movie, for a total of $70 bucks. All in all, it was cheaper for my family than the old movie which used to set me back a minimum of $100.
Sumi November 28, 2010 at 02:12 PM
Went yesterday with a group of friends and while we think its a great idea, there are a lot of kinks to be worked out. While waiting for others in party to arrive we went to the bar, and were basically ignored. After our drinks were ordered the bartender took about 15 minutes to get us our beverages. We went into the movie theater, we were hungry and wanted to order. We ended up having to find out own server. The food came out cold and the constant "who gets the...' from the servers was beyond annoying. I think the concept works well, I just think they need to train the staff and assign seat numbers to every food and beverage order taken. Not sure if I will go back for a while.
steve p January 09, 2011 at 04:58 AM
good idea but they need to make some changes. I have been there several times and found that the food is not that good. The hamburgers were bland. The food is never hot (always luke warm). You can't see the food. They need more light at the table. the seats are too far from your table so you have to sit on the edge of your sear to eat. A pull out table would be great! The service is poor. They brought the wrong food. By the time I saw it, (It's so dark) the waitress was gone. I hit the button to call the waitress. It took 5 minutes before anyone would come. It was not my waitress so they said she would be coming soon. 15 minutes later she came. She offered to fix the problem. 15 minutes later she returns. I am finished by then. I asked for dessert. The movie ended and she still did not arrive. I finally went and chased her down to get my dessert. She had the nerve to have her hand out for a tip. They also need to have hand sanitizer on every table.

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