Over the past few years, the dine-in theater concept of combining restaurant-style cuisine with first-run movies has gained popularity. With just the push of a button, moviegoers can enjoy tableside food service and cocktails from luxurious leather seats while watching the latest blockbuster.
In 2011, two dine-in theaters, Studio Movie Grill in Scottsdale and AMC Esplanade 14 in Biltmore opened their doors for business. So which theater has the best overall dining experience? Read more to find out.
In this corner: AMC Esplanade 14
The Setup: Located across the street from Biltmore Fashion Park, AMC Esplanade offers 14 stadium-style auditoriums complete with a full bar and menu including flatbread pizzetas, burgers, shrimp pasta, salads and more. There is a centrally located lobby bar, MacGuffins, for patrons to discuss movies over drinks.
There are two types of theater setups -- Fork and Screen, which is similar to a traditional theater, except with fold-out tables for food. The Cinema Suites are smaller, more intimate theaters that boast plush red leather recliners and serve only patrons 21 years or up. You can order food throughout the movie; however, most guests order early so it arrives before the movie starts. Checks are delivered about a half-hour before the movie ends. Ticket prices range from $7.50-$9.75 for the Fork and Screen theaters and $10.50-$12.50 for the Cinema Suites, depending on what time of day you go. Moviegoers are able to reserve seats ahead of time via the website or at the ticket kiosks.
The Good: I opted for the Cinema Suites ticket and crispy chicken tenders, which were served with seasoned fries and honey mustard for dipping. The food came out quickly, within 10 minutes of ordering. Although I thought the theater setup would be distracting with servers taking people's orders during the movie, it wasn't too noticeable.
The Bad: The chicken tenders were $12, and although I expected the food prices to be higher than usual, the chicken tenders tasted similar to what you would find at McDonald's, which was hardly worth the price.
In The Other Corner: Studio Movie Grill
The Setup: Located in the North Scottsdale Sonora Village shopping center, Studio Movie Grill is the originator of the dine-in theater concept. The lobby has modern décor and looks similar to an airport. There are nine theaters, all set up similar to a college lecture hall. Some chairs have a swivel tray for food, while a few rows have a long desk area with black leather office chairs. Ticket prices range from $7 for a matinee to $9.50 for an evening show. The drink menu featured several specialty cocktails such as the Apple Cinnamon Pie and Mandarin Cosmo for $8. Entrees were priced between $8 to $15.
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The Good: The menu was extensive for a movie theater, offering smoked ribs, pesto pasta, burgers, pizza and chicken tenders, which I also had here for the sake of comparison. The chicken wasn't spectacular, but it was decent. It was crispy, and the fries had a hint of seasoning. The beer prices weren't astronomical; a Blue Moon set me back about $6.50.
The Bad: The theater wasn't too busy, but it did take more than 20 minutes for my food to be delivered, and I ended up getting my plate when the theater was already dark.
And the winner is . . .Studio Movie Grill. Though the serving time for the chicken tenders happened to be longer than AMC, the food quality was better. Additionally, the ticket prices are lower, and with the theater regularly offering weekly food specials and Groupon discounts for tickets, it made the movie and dinner deal worth it.