Today AMC is unveiling their Dine-In Theatre experience to Columbus moviegoers with the reopening of nearly half of the Easton Town Center 30 theater. Thirteen of the thirty auditoriums were closed in April as renovation work began to convert their existing standard auditoriums to accommodate the new dining options. Easton Town Center 30 becomes the ninth AMC Dine-In Theatre nationwide with the nearest location being five hundred miles away in Bridgewater, NJ.
Columbus is no stranger to the dinner and movie concept; Flickers Cinema Pubs and Cinema Grill were both fixtures of the 80s and 90s and Movies 12 in Hilliard was converted to a Movie Tavern in 2006. With the Flickers and Cinema Pub long gone and Movies Tavern’s repeated health code violations the Columbus marketplace has been left wide open for a new dinner and movie option.
Auditoriums 18-30 have been completely gutted and re-imagined with two new movie going experiences in mind; Fork & Screen and Cinema Suites. Both concepts feature the same menu options and are aimed at a similar demographic namely those looking for dinner and a show. Nine auditoriums feature the more casual Fork & Screen experience with rocking leather seats and small swing out tables. Guests of the Fork & Screen must be 18 or older unless accompanied by a parent (a Children’s Menu is available). Guests that are 21 and older can enjoy the comforts of one of the four Cinema Suites that feature electronic leather recliners with larger swing out tables. All Dine-In auditoriums offer seat-side service and come equipped with an armrest mounted button that alerts your server that you require service.
Ticket prices remain the same as the conventional side of the theater but with reserved seating to cut down on table assignment confusion. The Dine-In Theatre menu is on par with what you’d expect to see at most moderately priced restaurants in the Easton area like Max & Erma’s, Applebees, and Champps. Standards like burgers & fries, salads, quesadillas, chicken tenders, and assorted appetizers are offered but AMC does bring some unexpected variety to their menu.
*I don’t fancy myself a food critic, I like to eat but there’s a reason I write about movies and not cuisine. Also, the restaurant reviews by Columbus Underground’s Morgan Kelly usually come with some very nice photographs of the food and drink. Since most of the food and drink for this article was served in a dark theater while a film was being shown I decided we would forgo trying to get photos of most of the cuisine.
The Wings & Things Sampler (12.99) is a good sized appetizer platter with buffalo wings with bleu cheese and celery, homemade potato chips, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks. Not being a fan of buffalo wings I passed those off to my wife who said they were meaty and not too spicy. The potato chips were somewhat bland and a little overdone while the onion rings were merely decent but not great. The mozzarella sticks on the other hand were delicious; the cheese was warm all the way to the center and they were topped with shredded parmesan which was a nice touch. A nice alternative to share is the Breadstick Sampler ($9.99) which comes with two soft pretzel breadsticks and six pizzetta strips along with marinara and queso blanco dipping sauces.
My wife is a chicken tender guru, if a restaurant sells chicken tenders then chances are she’s tried them. AMC offers several chicken tender options including the normal variety ($11.99), Buffalo Chicken Tenders ($12.49), and Thai Coconut Chicken Tenders ($12.49). She was in a tropical mood and tried the Thai Coconut tenders and said the batter was light and extremely flavorful. Her side of parmesan fries was also good but she did find a large garlic clove in her dipping sauce.
There are some menu choices that are somewhat difficult to eat in a dark auditorium like the Country Fried Steak ($11.99) with mashed potatoes. While I found the steak, the breading, and the gravy were all surprisingly good it was difficult to eat when served in a square bowl on top of a slick table top in near pitch black conditions. On a side note the mashed potatoes were some of the best I’ve had in a restaurant in sometime.
The entrees that are more fork than knife oriented are just as tasty and fare somewhat better simply because they’re easier to eat on a ‘TV tray’ in the dark. My wife raved about the Bruschetta Shrimp Pasta ($14.99) while I found the Tenderloin Tips (14.99) to not only be delicious but something I’d like to order at a normal restaurant. The Bistro Chicken Mac and Cheese ($11.99) had well cooked pasta and a strong flavored cheese sauce but the chicken was overdone and again was difficult to cut up in the dark on a slick surface.
Desserts are large enough to be shared but remember to ask for an extra plate or spoon at the time of ordering because you’ll have to wait for your server to make an extra trip back to your seats to deliver them. Of the desserts we sampled the best is also AMC’s most unique and comes in the form of the Waffle Sundae ($7.99). Two warm maple Belgium waffles are topped with vanilla ice cream, caramel, and candied bacon. Our Waffle Sundae also came with whipped cream which wasn’t mentioned on the menu so your whipped cream mileage may vary. The New York Cheesecake (6.99) isn’t anything to write home about especially when you have The Cheesecake Factory within walking distance of the theater but the Chocolate Loving Spooncake (6.99) and the Chocolate Brownie Sundae (7.99) are rich, chocolaty, and sure to satisfy your sweat tooth.
Full access to the redesigned MacGuffins Bar & Lounge is available in both the Fork & Screen and Cinema Suites. Expect to pay $8.00 or more for draft beers (thankfully served in a real glass) and other mixed drinks.
Free refills are available on both fountain drinks and popcorn but they are not served in the normal theater manner. Sodas are served in lidless Coca-Cola plastic glasses and popcorn is brought out in large plastic black contemporary bowls instead of the normal paper sacks. While the concession stand offers patrons the 100+ drink options courtesy of the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine Dine-In patrons only have access to the normal fountain selections. Theater candy is available and is listed in the back of the menu.
For the most part I really enjoyed the Dine-In experience that AMC offered right down to the redesigned bathrooms but there are some areas that could be improved upon. The hallways are decorated with either fake food related movie posters or cheaply printed reprints of classic film posters. It’s a small complaint but so much of what they’ve done looks great and it’s slightly cheapened by ugly reprints. In the Fork & Screen auditoriums you are able to lift the middle arm rest between you and your partner but unfortunately there’s a large gap between the seats that might be uncomfortable to sit across. The Cinema Suites don’t suffer from that same problem but they do run into a practicality issue with regards to their cup holder placement. The large swing out table renders one of the recliner’s built in cup holders almost completely useless because of its location. You can certainly just place your drink on top of the tray or use the shared middle armrest that has two cup holders but you may find that armrest crowded if you intend to rest two arms and two drinks in it. A shared point of frustration came in the form of sliding plates and bowls. The top of trays are very smooth, add to that the smooth bottomed plates and bowls, and trying to eat in the dark and you have a recipe for an small accident. Hopefully in the future AMC will add some kind of washable placemat to help keep plates steady even with rigorous cutting.
AMC’s Dine-In Theatres won’t be for everyone. There are a lot more people coming and going throughout the dining experience especially during the first hour of the film. If you think you’re going to be bothered by a server walking in your line of sight, the whispering of orders around you, or the glowing cell phone type light from the server’s order tablets than a more conventional theater experience might be the way to go.
Your dinner and a movie isn’t going to come cheap either; two tickets to an evening show, two fountain drinks, a shared appetizer, two entrees, and a shared dessert, plus a 20% tip will easily run you close to $100. That might seem like a lot but if you think about what you might spend at a normal restaurant plus going to a movie you’re still in the same ballpark. When comparing similar menu items from Movie Tavern, AMC comes in at about a 20% increase but with competition comes lower prices and only time will tell on how having two dinner theaters will affect the market.
While it certainly isn’t the first of its kind the AMC Dine-In Theatre experience is certainly the most sophisticated and well thought out version of the dinner and show concept Columbus has seen in many years. The amenities are good looking and comfortable, the service was timely and efficient, and the food was much better than what you’d expect to find at a movie theater (or many chain restaurants). Not all moviegoers are going to embrace the concept; it can be distracting, pricing may seem high, and it’s a departure from the normal movie going experience we’ve all grown accustomed to but if Easton Town Center 30 can maintain its standards they may have something special on their hands.
AMC Easton Town Center 30 is located at inside of the Easton Town Center shopping mall. More information about AMC Dine-In Theatres can be found at their website dinein.amctheatres.com/menu and showtime and ticket information can be found on the main AMC Theatre site.