AMC's Dine-In Movie Concept Could Stand a Few Tweaks in the Dining Department

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Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning, and if the Academy gets the least bit cutesy, I'll have hours and hours of movie-watching ahead of me.

For more than a decade, I've made a ritual of seeing every nominated film in every category: I was probably the only person as crushed as director Mathias Fjellström when Instead of Abracadabra didn't take the live action short prize last year.

I usually knock out the favorites well ahead of nomination day, but there's inevitably a Mrs. Henderson Presents or other left-field choice that sends me scrambling back to the theater for a few weeks of intense remedial work. And since I like to be as comfortable as possible when enduring movies I made a conscious decision to avoid pre-Oscar season -- please, please, please no Sandra Bullock films this year -- I recently scoped out the converted AMC 30 at Grapevine Mills, which features the chain's new Dine-In concept.

There's no shortage of options around Dallas for snacking and screening: Studio Movie Grill, Movie Tavern and Gold Class Cinemas all save moviegoers the trouble of eating before or after the show. But what makes the AMC entry especially interesting is it belongs to the nation's second-largest theater chain, which means the "Cinema Suites" and "Fork & Screen" experiences provide a peek at the templates for eat-in movies nationwide.

AMC has already opened seven Dine-In movie theaters, and plans to increase its numbers quickly. Based on my one meal there, the chain would be wise to tweak a few fundamentals before unleashing the concept on the country.

I attended a "Cinema Suites" show, which differs only slightly from a "Fork & Screen" movie. In a Cinema Suite, the chairs are cushier, and there's a special menu with something like a half-dozen "luxury" items, including blue cheese potato chips and fried calamari.

Cinema Suites uses a set-up similar to Gold Glass Cinemas: The room's furnished with super-wide recliners, arranged two-by-two. There's a call button near each chair to summon a server. But what's missing at AMC's version is an out-of-the-way spot for coats and bags: Since the recliners have neither backs nor accessible underbellies, everything ends up in the servers' pathway. The tables pose another logistical headache; they pull out of the outside arm rests, airplane-style, so there's a gaping chasm between a couple's eating surfaces. That means it's almost impossible to share food.

Worse still, the food isn't worthy of sharing. When I tried to snag a slice of my date's cheese pizza, I was strongly advised not to eat it. "Don't do it," he hissed. But I did, so I know the pie was cold and rubbery.

Perhaps I should have suspected something was amiss when our server delivered our complimentary plastic ramekins of "cookies and cream" popcorn, featuring aging popcorn basted with a sugar glaze and garnished with bits of Oreo-esque cookies. "You don't have to eat it," he told us sympathetically. Still, I pressed on, ordering a salad (overdressed) and a cheeseburger (flavorless and mushy). I don't expect gourmet food from a movie theater, but I was hoping the quality would at least measure up to concession stand nachos. Now I'm just hoping the experience contributed to my resilience -- I'll need it if Wall Street 2 scores a nomination.

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