Erin Ellis of Woodbury loves going to the movies, but he has one bugaboo.
“I hate how much people talk and use their cellphones during the film,” Ellis said.
To minimize interruptions, he avoids theaters that don’t enforce quiet policies and often goes to early shows, sometimes taking a day off to go before 11 a.m.
“The crowds are more courteous then,” said Ellis, 47.
Serious moviegoers searching for a quiet place will soon have a new option — Alamo Cinema Drafthouse in Woodbury.
It virulently enforces a “no talking, no texting, no late seating” policy and starts its soft opening Sunday, with advance discounted tickets going on sale Wednesday. All tickets will be $5 and concessions will be 25 percent off through July 26, while the staff learns the velvet ropes.
“We’re a unique movie theater chain for movie lovers by movie lovers,” said Bill DiGaetano, Alamo’s chief operating officer. Eight of the screens usually show blockbusters, with at least one usually reserved for indies and art-house movies.
Alamo is the latest theater chain in the Twin Cities to coax moviegoers into their seats with a more luxurious experience filled with amenities.
In May, CMX Cinemas at Mall of America brought a new-to-the-industry food hall along with recliners. AMC started the recliner and diner trend in the Twin Cities five years ago. All also bring the latest in movie tech sight and sound.
The changes are one way to counter changing customer preferences. Attendance fell nationwide last year, but is rebounding this year.
The nine-screen Alamo complex at 9060 Hudson Road in Woodbury has a large restaurant and bar, which do not require a ticket to be seated. The eight-page food and drink menu includes fried pickle spears, buffalo cauliflower, pizza, Jucy Lucy burgers, tacos, warm chocolate-chip cookies, more than 30 craft beers on tap and adult shakes.
Patrons can eat and drink in the restaurant, take food into the theater or order food and drinks from their seats. Each seat has a tray, menu, pencils and order card. Place the card in the metal clip for ordering and a server picks it up. A customer can also write a message about someone talking or texting.
“We don’t go right over to the person talking,” DiGaetano said. “We don’t want them to know who’s ratting them out.”
Alamo tries hard to minimize its own interruptions and distractions. Wait staffers serve in waves with plates and drinkware to minimize noise, wear dark clothing with no reflective stickers and do not keep change in their pocket to eliminate jingling.
“We want fewer interruptions, not someone coming by to see if you need another drink,” said Bryan Penley, president of Alamo Drafthouse in the Twin Cities and North Texas.
Woodbury is the Austin, Texas-based chain’s 36th location — and its largest. The company hopes to expand to have three to five locations in the Twin Cities.
“We always start in the ’burbs, and then we work our way into the city,” said DiGaetano. “We have three letters of intent out, and we hope to have up to five locations in two to four years, including Minneapolis.”
The company is known for trying to delight customers with small surprises. During a showing of the original “Ghostbusters,” staff brought out free s’mores for the audience during one of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scenes. For an extra fee, feasts that include three to four courses can be arranged to coincide with movies. In a marathon showing of the Hobbit trilogy, seven courses were served during the 12 hours.
Chefs get to see the movies before the public, so they can plan special menus and drinks. Alamo chef Joshua Chapman prepared chimichangas and salsa served in a dish shaped like Deadpool’s mask for “Deadpool 2.”
Pricing falls in line with most Twin Cities’ theaters. Evening showings are $11, matinees $8. On Tuesday, all showings are $5, including the Big Show theater with laser projectors and Dolby Atmos sound.
“We undercut our prices a bit in this market,” said Penley with a nod to the Twin Cities’ competitive marketplace.
The theater employs about 140, including more than 40 in the kitchen.
“We hire people who are passionate about movies,” said DiGaetano. “We have a concierge who can talk your ear off about movies.”