Alamo Drafthose patrons rent an entire theater for their pod of family and friends in new pandemic business model that's gaining momentum.

By James Hibberd
September 24, 2020 at 11:02 AM EDT
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It's the ultimate moviegoing social distancing strategy: One buyer, one theater.

The Texas-based theater chain Alamo Drafthouse is rolling out a nationwide program where patrons rent out an entire theater for themselves – along with their pandemic pod family and friends – for $150.

The move expands on the test run of the program that's now expanding to 12 states.

"After a massively successful rollout in select cities we’re excited to be able to offer this at Alamo Drafthouse theaters nationwide that are currently open," says Shelli Taylor, a former Starbucks executive who took over as Alamo Drafthouse CEO in April. "Our guests have been asking how their friends, family, and fellow podmates can book their own safe and relaxing screening, and we’re proud to be able to deliver this to them at such an affordable rate."

While $150 might sound like a steep price, but the cost comes down quickly if you have enough trusted family and friends in your group. According to an Alamo spokesperson, the average rental group is 10 people.

Eric Raptosh Photography/Getty Images

The theater also charges a second $150 minimum that's applied toward the group's food and beverages, which are served to patrons in their seats by a mask-wearing staff.

Even without a large group, some doubtless feel that paying a premium is worth it to avoid being seated near-random strangers who might be symptomatic with COVID-19 – or to simply avoid the distraction of worrying about it. Still, the program is less financially friendly to solo ticket buyers or couples.

Customers reserve a theater and then get a private link to send to their pod-mates so each can select their own seat. They also get to choose which film they want to watch ranging from new releases such as Tenet and Kajillionaire or modern classics like Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Kung Fu Panda, The Goonies, and Trolls.

“When we began rolling out Your Own Private Alamo at our Austin location in August, we had no idea what the response would be,” says Kristen Wheaton, Alamo Drafthouse Senior Director of Venue Experience. “It was big. Really big. In just the first few weeks we booked over 700 groups of families and coworkers at just a handful of theaters. We’re so excited to expand this program to more locations across the country.”

Alamo has long been a pioneer in movie theater service trends, with the company introducing in-seat food and beverage service and an ultra-strict "no talking, no texting" policy back in 1997 with the launch of its first theater in Austin. With many movie theaters closing during the pandemic and box office ticket sales dropping to multi-decade record lows, perhaps private theater rentals will likewise give other chains a new path forward.

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