Issue Spr 17 V1
Movie Tavern prides itself on being the go-to cinema eatery, setting itself apart with chef-inspired menu items and red carpet service.
Dinner and a movie: the classic date night. Remember the coordination involved with making reservations at a restaurant and timing it just right to get to the theater to buy tickets and grab a seat before the movie started?
Movie Tavern has removed the stress of planning dates, or girls or family nights out by becoming the go-to cinema eatery, offering chef-inspired menu items and seasonal drinks at guests’ fingertips. All that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy the show. “We are a one-stop-shop for movie entertainment, great food and drink,” says Joe Marcus, senior vice president of culinary and guest experience. “We came to market with solid, convincingly good food that allows moviegoers to know what to expect and have a level of comfort with it.”
Founded in 2001, Dallas-based Movie Tavern is a leader in the cinema eatery segment catering to adults and families with 216 digital screens in 10 states and growing. Private equity firm VSS-Southern Theatres, based in New Orleans, acquired the company in 2013 and became the eighth-largest theater company in North America.
Movie Tavern has 24 locations throughout the country and over the past year-and-a-half has opened six new theaters and launched several major renovations. All but two of its locations offer the full-service in-theater dining experience.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary last year, Movie Tavern says it has made big strides from where it began to where it is today. “We have come a long way from our original counter service concept,” Vice President of Marketing Danny DiGiacomo says. “We now offer reserved seating, luxury recliners, a full-service menu and an array of crafted cocktails all delivered right to your seat.”
“Because of our name and the tavern moniker, we try to keep the menu in that vein,” COO Don Watson says. “But we continually update our menu to keep it fresh and exciting to keep our guests engaged.”
Movie Tavern’s menu items are often made from scratch daily. “The culinary staff is always looking for the best ingredients to produce the highest quality item to give our guests at an incredible bang for their buck,” Watson adds.
Movie Tavern has “something for everyone” on its menu, from burgers, flatbreads and pizza to full entrées and starters. A house favorite is the Game Day Platter that features three jumbo sliders, eight wings and bacon cheese fries served with three dipping sauces. The Cuban Dip sandwich features shredded roasted pork and tavern ham on a crispy garlic toasted roll topped with Swiss cheese and pickles. The dish is served with “Mojo” Au Jus sauce for dipping.
“We take guest feedback through multiple channels,” DiGiacomo says. “We listen to our guests and we reengineer our menus accordingly.”
In May, Movie Tavern introduced a new made-to-order menu featuring higher-quality items that enhanced its expedited service approach. One-third of the menu was removed, but the chain did keep some of its fan favorites. The company developed more streamlined recipes that did not sacrifice quality but can be prepared quicker.
“We’ve been evolving our menu offerings and working to ease unnecessary obstacles for our operating teams so that we deliver an exceptional experience for our guests,” Marcus said when the menu launched. “So we took a hard look at our product and service model – and listened to what our customers were saying. We never wanted to be just acceptable in their eyes. We want to be exceptional.”
The menu introduced new flavors, and light and fresh entrées, as well as vegetarian and allergy-awareness options. Movie Tavern also presents food and beverage limited-time offers throughout the year, including smoked ribs, pumpkin spiced latte and a Peppermint Schnapps shakes. “We try to arrange LTOs around the season or a particular movie,” Marcus says. “It’s something fun and interesting for our servers and guests to engage with.”
Movie Tavern is reinventing its kitchens by adding an additional cook line to meet the demands of its guests. “Imagine having seven, 10 or even 13 hidden dining rooms with all the guests wanting service at the same time,” Marcus says.
Adding a second line for peak periods allows Movie Tavern to be more flexible and expedite its service. “Seventy-five to 225 people sitting at one time can be quite an undertaking and we needed to diversify the kitchen,” Marcus adds. “This kitchen design will launch in our new locations, which are currently under construction.”
Service is the key differentiator for Movie Tavern and the company boasts an extensive training program. “Hiring is our biggest challenge with the issues of minimum wage and the pool is getting smaller for qualified people,” Watson says. “We are very choosy on our service staff because it’s very hard work. They are working in the dark, running up and down stairs and they may have to run the length of a football field to get food to guests.”
Movie Tavern recently extended its training program from five to seven days to focus more on upselling, alcohol and second service, which includes refills and desserts. “We engage employees through our orientation program to embrace the brand so they feel a part of the team,” Marcus says.
Training also ensures its servers are well-versed in the menu and provide out-of-sight service as customers are ultimately there to enjoy the movie. At the push of a button customers can call a server who takes a knee to stay out of patrons’ lines of sight during in-seat ordering. Servers use handheld tablets to immediately input orders and backup POS terminals are located in every theater.
“We are really focused on consistent execution of service and we pay attention to new technologies that can help us provide customers with a seamless experience,” DiGiacomo says. “We are looking into options for customers to order in advance, as well as better ticketing options through social media.”
Moving forward, Movie Tavern plans to continue expanding and expects significant growth over the next two years. “Part of our expansion includes a premium experience without assigning a premium price to it,” Watson says. “We are really focusing on amenities.”