One cold Saturday last winter, my husband and I thought it would be fun to take our two kids to a movie at one of New Jersey’s new dine-in theaters. At 10:45 am, we figured we’d skip the food. Little did we know—we couldn’t. “That’ll be $82,” the cashier chirped. Talk about sticker shock!
Although that experience was not one of our best, AMC theaters—which owns three of the four dine-ins—has recently changed some of its policies to make the charges a little less, well, shocking. Here are some questions you might have about the theaters—and the answers to know before you go.
Q: What are the new dine-in theaters all about, and where are they?
A: There are three AMC movie theaters where you can order a meal from your seat. A server brings the food to you during the movie, or you can summon the server with a call button at any point during the show. There’s a bar in the lobby, and you can order cocktails during the movie, too.
The NJ theater locations are: Essex Green 9 in West Orange, Bridgewater Commons 7, and Menlo Park 12. Essex Green and Menlo offer two dining options: the casual Fork and Screen, and the more upscale Cinema Suites. Fork and Screen is open to all ages, but an adult must accompany moviegoers under age 18; guests of Cinema Suites must be at least 21. Bridgewater offers only the Fork and Screen dining option.
Q: Do you have to order food?
A: Not anymore! In the past, you had to pay an experience charge, which was basically a voucher toward your food and beverage purchase. Now the only thing you must buy is your admission ticket to see the movie. When you get to your seat, you can either order food or not—the choice is yours. A dinner entrée for an adult is about $12; dessert is around $6. You get your food bill before the end of the movie and can pay it by cash or credit card; tipping is customary.
Q: What are the prices?
A: At Fork and Screen, an adult movie ticket is between $9 and $12, depending on the day of the week and time of day. (Prices are $6.75 for adults before noon on weekends and before 6 pm on weekdays.) A child’s ticket is between $6 and $9. At Cinema Suites, adult prices range from $9 to $12; on weekends after 4 pm the price jumps to $15. 3-D movies carry an extra $3 charge.
Q: What type of food is served?
A: The food ranks somewhere between Friendly’s fare and hot lunch at summer camp (think burgers, pizzettas, and quesadillas, with some specialty items and sweet treats for desserts). The menus at Cinema Suites and Fork and Screen are the same, but Cinema Suites may offer a few additional items. Traditional movie fare, like popcorn and candy, is also available.
Q: What are the seats and tables like?
A: The seats are leather-like armchairs, which recline at Cinema Suites. Each one accommodates two people, with a dividing armrest that can be raised. Each seat has a swivel tray table or stationary tabletop. There’s also a side table for condiments. A small light (similar to the kind on airplanes) allows you to see your food without disturbing other patrons.
Q: Are reservations necessary?
A: Because there are fewer seats (servers need room to walk, and there’s a lot of leg room), theaters can fill up quickly, so reservations are a good idea. When you make your reservation, you get to choose your seat—kind of like ordering concert tickets at an arena (amctheatres.com).
Q: Are there any other theaters like this in New Jersey?
A: Yes, there’s also the family-owned Dunellen Cinema Café. Opened in the 1920s as the Dunellen Theater, and serving up dinner and a movie for more than a decade, you could say the Cinema Café is the Garden State’s original restaurant-theater. It has an “old theater” vibe—and price: an adult ticket is $8, and a child’s ticket is $6, all day every day. The theater caters to a family crowd by playing child-appropriate movies when available. The food comes from the tavern next door, but ordering food is optional.
Q: Would you recommend going?
A: I went to Menlo’s Fork and Screen with my kids (ages 7 and 3) and Cinema Suites for a “date night” with my husband. I have to admit: date night was a blast! It was fun to throw the seat into a reclining position, lift the chair arm that separated us, and watch a movie on the big screen as comfortably as we’d watch a DVD at home (but without the calls of “Mommy, I need water!”). The servers were unobtrusive, and we ordered all our food during the previews so we wouldn’t have to look at the menu during the movie.
Family night was also fun. The small light enabled even my 3-year-old to see his food well enough to keep the mess to a minimum, and the swivel tables, which seemed impossibly narrow at first, turned out okay. We had a minor fracas when we first walked in and discovered the paired seating that helped make date night such a blast was not as good for a family of three. But once the movie started, nobody cared.
The Bottom Line
The dine-in theaters are a good deal if you’re itching to see that new release and aren’t keen on paying a babysitter for the time it takes to have dinner and see a movie at separate venues, or if you’re planning a night out with the family around dinnertime. Shows before noon on weekends (and before 6 pm on weekdays) at Fork and Screen are a bargain, but be aware that there are no breakfast items on the menu—so prepare to eat an early lunch, or just skip the food altogether.
If your kid really loves movies, you might want to check out the birthday party package offered at all four theaters. The cool thing about Dunellen? The birthday child gets to see his or her name on the marquee.
Renée Sagiv Riebling is a freelance writer from Metuchen, NJ. She and her family love to go to the movies.