Cinemas and Coronavirus: How Theaters are Responding
New seat layouts, increase hygiene all promised
By Richard Whittaker,
2:00PM, Mon. Mar. 16, 2020
Cinema just saw their worst weekend for ticket sales in 20 years as audiences question whether they want to be in public spaces. Now they're all trying to find sensible responses that will allow them to stay open and safe for audiences.
On Saturday, the city of Austin reduced the upper limit for public gatherings to 250 people. However, most cinemas are well under that capacity and are still open for the time being. All chains and independent sites are introducing additional cleanliness and hygiene protocols, both for staff and customers. Here's exactly what they are doing at the national and local level – plus how the drive-ins are offering what they think could be an option to remain in your own space and still catch films.
• Alamo Drafthouse: The local alternative chain has closed its two sites in New York, but other locations are still open. However, theatres are running on reduced capacity, with buffer seats between groups and individuals. The Drafthouse has also stressed that the coronavirus testing will be covered by employee insurance, and the chain will cover costs for uninsured employees. Wages will be covered for time away from work while waiting for test results. If employees test positive, the Drafthouse will pay for 14 days of quarantine sick leave: after that, employees will start using accrued PTO and/or sick leave.
• AFS Cinema: The home of Austin's arthouse culture has, as of today, reduced ticket sales to 50% of theater capacity and are encouraging audiences to maintain social distance in the lobby. All seats, armrests, and cupholders will be sanitized during theater cleanings, all guest- and employee-accessible areas will be cleaned and sanitized multiple times during the day, and professional cleaning crews will clean the entire theatre multiple times per week. www.austinfilm.org/afs-cinema.
• Violet Crown The luxury arthouse chain is staying open and has promised greatly enhanced hygiene standards, including increased use of disinfectant and sanitizers. Customers are also encouraged to use credit cards rather than cash. www.austin.violetcrown.com.
With the big concern being about being in shared spaces, the idea of sitting in your own car, away from strangers, might seem a lot more appealing.
• Doc's Drive In Theatre: The Buda drive-in is staying open, and offering curbside ordering for concessions, as well as promising increased hygiene protocols. www.docsdriveintheatre.com.
• Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In: Both the Austin and Round Rock locations are staying open but with changed interactions with audiences. The first change is that attendees will just be able to hold their phone ticket out, rather than hand it over, to gain admission. The number of car slots stays the same, but the number of walk-up tickets will be reduced. Carside delivery for drinks and concessions is already being offered in Round Rock and will be added in Austin this week. You'll also be able to use off-site toilets as well as the Starlite's own facilities and be allowed to return. There will also be rain checks if you buy a ticket and don't feel comfortable going out at the moment. www.bluestarlitedrivein.com.
• AMC Theatres: The chain announced this morning that they will limit ticket sales to 50 per screen or 50% of seats, whichever is lower. The reduction will be in place until April 30.
• Cinemark: As with other chains, Cinemark (which also includes Tinseltown) has reduced ticket sales by "at least" 50% of capacity. Customers will also be able to select their seats, and refunds will be available until showtime.
On Saturday, the chain announced that, in addition to increased hygiene protocols, all screens will be reduced to 50% capacity. UPDATE: Regal has become the first chain to officially close all screens, starting tomorrow. Locally, the closure will affect the Regal Arbor, Gateway & IMAX, Metropolitan, and Westgate. In a statement to Deadline, Mooky Greidinger, Cineworld CEO, wrote: “At this time, we have made the difficult decision to close our theatres. We value our movie-loving customers and have no doubt we will be serving them again as soon as possible with a full slate of Hollywood blockbusters. The Cineworld Group and Regal Theatres are strong, standing on solid ground and our continued goal is to be The Best Place to Watch a Movie!"