Local movie theaters ramping up renovations
SAN ANTONIO - If you like going to the movies, you've probably noticed movie theaters around San Antonio are getting a whole lot more comfortable.
In recent months, chains have poured millions of dollars into upgrades and renovations, doing everything they can to put more bodies in seats.
Rich, luxurious seats.
From the South Side to the Northwest Side -- and many areas in between -- San Antonio theater chains are taking things up a notch.
"You know it's all about what the guest wants," says Kristen Wheaton, VP of Operations for Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Moviegoers are taking notice.
"I've noticed that theaters are really trying hard," said one man in line to see a recent showing of "I, Tonya" at the Drafthouse Park North location.
San Antonio-based Santikos Entertainment has been especially busy as of late.
"What is important to people when they go to the movies - a lot of times - is what they call 'The show before the show'," says Santikos Entertainment CEO David Holmes.
Take for example the new-and-improved Palladium Imax at The Rim.
Santikos spent six months and millions of dollars giving the ten-year-old theater complex a facelift. They unveiled all the improvements during a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony in December.
Every theater there now comes equipped with so-called luxury recliners, 42-inch-wide leather seats with footrests.
There is also a VIP area upstairs known as "The Mezz", which features a bar area and special theater with "couple pods" - complete with call-button service to order food.
"So they're a whole new level of comfort that really is designed to compete with the comfort level that you have in your living room at home," adds Holmes.
Customers we spoke to didn’t hold back expressing their enthusiasm for the new-look Palladium.
"it's like a one-stop shop," said Lizette Miller with a big smile. "If you just get off work, you can come here, grab dinner, grab snacks, relax, watch a movie. And especially with the new seats, it makes it really relaxing."
"It's kind of like a vacation away from home when we come here," a woman named Shylah told us.
You'll hear similar raves about the revamped Mayan Palace 14 on Southwest Military Drive.
Santikos considers this theater its crown jewel on the South Side.
"When we walked in, it literally felt like we were in some resort or hotel vibe," said one woman during the Mayan’s recent ribbon-cutting ceremony, held two days after the Palladium’s.
The Mayan also boasts an upgraded lobby, more food and drink options, and yes, luxury recliners in every theater.
"This business is one where you've got to constantly be refreshing," Holmes says. "You have to constantly be ahead."
In addition to the Palladium and Mayan Palace, Santikos has converted all the seats to recliners at its Embassy 14 location off 281 and Bitters as well.
You can also find the recliners throughout most of the Casa Blanca, Santikos' newest theater, located along Alamo Ranch Parkway on the West Side.
Holmes says they soon hope to approve renovation plans for two more of their theaters. A Santikos representative tells us nothing has been voted on by the board yet, but a decision could happen as soon as their meeting in February.
Elsewhere, competitor Regal Entertainment already has what it calls "King-Size Recliners" at its Huebner Oaks location.
The Tennessee-based chain has also spent the past four months installing recliners at its Northwoods theater too.
In an email, a Regal spokesperson indicated the "King-Size Recliners" are set to debut at the Northwoods Stadium 14, located off Henderson Pass near 1604 and 281, sometime in January.
"There's still no other experience like watching a film on the big screen," says Alamo Drafthouse VP Kristen Wheaton.
Founded in Austin back in 1997, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema entered the San Antonio market nearly fifteen years ago. It now has three locations in the Alamo City and another in New Braunfels. The ever-expanding chain is well-known for its unique theater experience.
"You have beer, movies, pizza," says Wheaton. "You get served to your seat with chef-inspired food."
But even Drafthouse felt it was time for an upgrade. Revamped menu. Revamped theaters.
"We heard that they wanted a change in the seating," Wheaton says, referring to customer feedback. "And we took the plunge."
In early 2017, the Stone Oak and Park North locations both got new leather seats, along with luxury recliners in the front row.
"They are choosing theaters to go to based upon their seating experience," Wheaton says.
"You want to go to that theater over theaters that have just like the traditional seats," said the man getting ready to see "I, Tonya".
But, Wheaton explains, more spacious seating also means less seating per theater.
"You could put a lot more seats in here, but that's not necessarily what your guest wants."
In the past, a theater like the one we visited at the Park North location could potentially hold as many as 400 seats. But in this new era of going to the movies, Theater 6 only holds 177 seats. That way, Wheaton says, customers can use the extra space to stretch out, lean back, and perhaps enjoy a beer and some chips and queso.
"So you can't put as many people or sell as many tickets to that one showtime," Wheaton points out. "But what we find is that overall, we are filling more seats than you would, even if you have more seating capacity."
All the chains we interviewed say they’re seeing a growing number of loyal customers.
"With a nice facility like this, we'll probably be here several times a month," Palladium fan Lizette Miller told us.
It appears more people are now choosing to see movies in a theater because of the experience they have there, not in spite of it.
"There's no risk in listening to your guest," Wheaton says. "If you listen to your guest, your employees, the business will fall in line. And those dollars will keep coming in."