Open since last August, theaters safely offer audiences a unique dinner-and-a-movie experience
by Cristi Sanchez
Caitlin Walker, Marketing Director of Cinema Cafe
Locally-owned, family-run movie theater Cinema Cafe survived "The Year of COVID." While many national movie chains remain shuttered for now, Cinema Cafe is not only surviving, it's thriving, even expanding by adding a new theater in Chesterfield this past December. Marketing Director Caitlin Walker is excited to share that Cinema Cafe's Edinburgh and Greenbrier locations are open for business and utilizing every safety protocol at their disposal to keep customers safely entertained.
"We slowly reopened our locations in phases in August of last year," she explains. "In deciding to open, we definitely wanted to do so with the safety of our guests and our crew in mind. We've put every measure into place that's been recommended by the CDC. We're also participants in CinemaSafe, a national theater safety protocol program providing additional guidance on making and keeping movie theaters safe for our guests. CinemaSafe information is available on our website for guests to read so they can be assured of the safety of our establishments."
CinemaSafe is a partnership between the National Association of Theater Owners, the CDC, and epidemiologists-who compiled a list of guidelines for reopening theaters safely. Hundreds of theaters across the nation signed on to participate as "CinemaSafe theaters," including Cinema Cafe. Each of their locations displays a CinemaSafe seal on their doors and box office windows to signal that they are participants in the program.
"We want to put customers' minds at ease coming into our theaters and let them know that we are dedicated to their safety and well-being," Caitlin stresses. "We cannot be a CinemaSafe participant without following all of their stringent health and safety guidelines. We've done everything that we can and everything that was advised to make this a safe experience for our guests."
As a combination restaurant and theater, Cinema Cafe already had a leg up on cleanliness and safety with robust cleaning and sanitizing practices. When the pandemic began, these practices were enhanced by adding extra sanitizing procedures between movies, putting hand sanitizer throughout the building, implementing masking requirements when not eating, and making seating for all theaters reserved.
Because the theater's seating is completely comprised of recliners, there is already a built-in distance of six-to-seven feet between rows to accommodate the large comfy chairs when they recline. "The reservation system facilitates further social distancing by automatically blocking out two chairs on either side of the booking," Caitlin explains.
All of the implemented safety protocols have been well received by Cinema Cafe moviegoers. Caitlin cites guest loyalty as mainly contributing to their theaters' success during the pandemic. "Our Facebook reviews consistently mention great service, great food, and exceptional cleanliness. We have a very loyal and supportive customer base. They were anxious for us to reopen, and their response to the protocols we put in place has been fantastic. Everyone has been very cooperative. After being cooped up for so long, people have been ready to get out of the house for some entertainment," she smiles.
In fact, guests were so eager to get back to the unique "dinner and a movie experience" they welcomed viewing some classic blockbusters. With the COVID outbreak last March, film production worldwide came to an abrupt halt, leaving theaters without any new content to put on their screens. But that did not deter Cinema Cafe. They quickly adapted, showing second-run favorites, and their audiences continued coming.
"We've been relying on bringing some classics back to the screen, like Jurassic Park, the Star Wars franchise, Free Willy, and seasonal films for our guests to watch while waiting for new releases to resume," Caitlin says. "Thankfully, everyone has enjoyed them-especially our long-time guests. We've been very encouraged by the number of people coming back. Business has been good and steadily picking up over the last six months, especially as more new movies started coming out. Because people are eager to see new content, we've even been showing some smaller independent films well as well."
"After being cooped up for so long,
people have been ready to get out
of the house for some entertainment."
of the house for some entertainment."
Grown from the ground up, the innovative restaurant and movie theater combination opened in Pembroke in 1986 as Cinema N' Draft House, with more of a limited draft house menu and feel. In the early 90s, however, the owners, who now had small children of their own, saw an untapped potential with the family market and wanted to take the business in a more family-friendly direction. They rebranded to Cinema Cafe, bringing in families, family content, and a wider variety of movies, and an expanded menu that now includes a wide range of salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and desserts.
Caitlin credits much of Cinema Cafe's appeal to the business model as a dual-purpose entertainment venue. "The dual concept has broad appeal," Caitlin observes. "We're certainly one of the most affordable entertainment options available to people who are eager to get out of the house for family night, date night, or girls' night out. It's a fantastic place to enjoy dinner and a movie with friends and family. We always get a great response from families. I think the affordability and dual concept appeals to them. And let's be honest, sometimes having a meal besides popcorn and soda can really help keep the kiddos engaged in the movie!" she adds with a laugh.
Cinema Cafe also offers individual theater rentals for gatherings, birthday, or graduation celebrations. "Our dual purpose venue is great for facilitating group gatherings," Caitlin explains. "Guests can rent a theater for a surprisingly affordable price, which includes food from our menu and the option of bringing in their own films or watching some of our classic content for a private viewing party. With all of our safety protocols in place, it's a great way for people to have a safe group gathering."
Cinema Cafe has not only stood the test of time but has withstood the test of Covid. As a family-run and family-friendly business, it continues to provide a gathering place for food, fun, and entertainment, and they plan on continuing to do so for years to come.
P.O. Box 9155
Chesapeake, VA 23321
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