Dinner Movie Theater: Nothing Like Dinner Theater

Posted on December 19, 2014


… and I didn’t even really like dinner theater, either.

Lila does not often attend live theater, but way back in college, I had occasion to attend a dinner-theater production. It was a formal affair, with coats and ties and crisp tablecloths and candlelight, all very subdued to allow for almost full attention to the stage. I say “almost,” because even though the patrons tried to be discreet, you can’t avoid the clinking of dinnerware or the waiters moving about refilling glasses or attending to diners’ requests. And if you’re eating a nice meal on fine china, some of your attention is necessarily diverted from the stage.  I don’t remember now what the production was, and I don’t remember what the meal was either; yet, I recall exactly what I saw in the one and only Broadway show I went to (at about the same age), and I remember exactly where I had the very best steak of my life, and the very best pork chop of my life.  Focus is everything.  All in all, I came away with the opinion that dining and theater weren’t really a great mix.


Dinner theater, very similar to my experience.


And yet, for some reason, popcorn, candy and sodas are practically a required part of the moviegoing experience. I don’t understand why; they (and cellphones) are the very reason that I rarely attend movies at the theater, preferring to wait until I can see them at home… far from the madding crowd. Moviegoers are not nearly as genteel a crowd as what Lila saw at the dinner theater all those years ago; no, there is always some boor texting, cackling, commenting to his friends, loudly slurping his drink or chewing his popcorn (the half that hasn’t yet fallen on the sticky floor), squeaking his candy wrappers or rattling his gumdrops, and just generally behaving as if he were noshing in front of the TV at home in his own living room… which, to judge by his oblivious behavior, probably resembles a barnyard. To top it all off, that guy almost always sits right behind me, or perhaps two seats over.

And yet, a lot of people look favorably on the mix of food and theater. Recently, I was mystified to discover a sort of “dinner movie theater,” the Movie Tavern franchise. There is some variation, but the one I attended looked more like a conference hall than a theater: rows of rolling desk chairs perched behind long tables with integrated lighting, so you can see your food. And we’re not talking popcorn, no; we’re talking full meals. Full meals served on disposable plates with plastic cutlery and paper napkins, obtained from the lobby concession stand – but full meals nonetheless.

Now, this does not fire my imagination with mental images of the upscale dinner-theater experience I had so long ago. No, now I worried that the usual movie-going boors would add to their repertoires: rolling and twisting in their swivel-chairs, elbows invading their neighbors’ space as they tear into their chicken wings and cheese fries (hey, I didn’t say the food was haute cuisine).  I can’t really imagine that the alcoholic beverages help anyone’s manners, either.

As it turned out, the movie we went to see was apparently not very popular, and the theater was practically empty, thank God. But I scratched the Movie Tavern off my list of preferred places to go see movies. I guess I’m not in the mainstream; maybe I’m just easily distracted. But when I pay to see a movie, I want to see the movie. Popcorn is bad enough; I don’t want my senses assaulted by the smells of pizza and greasy burgers, or the sounds of people wrestling with their salads or sliders or pita sandwiches, or the sight of back-lit tables and customers swiveling and rocking in their chairs (there is always a fidgeter).

Dining out with friends and good food is a joy. Attending plays, symphonies or operas is a rare pleasure. I just think mixing the two detracts from both. As for movie theaters – adding bigger, greasier food to the concession stand and providing a table for dining inside the theater just gives rude people more ways to be even ruder.