I kick people out of my Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters without a refund for texting and talking. AMA.
When we were 23 years old, my wife and I opened up our first single screen movie theater. We didn't have any qualifications except for one -- we were devoted movie fans. We were lucky to find that to be most important qualification of all. Since then, we have expanded to 14 locations and are building more.
As the Alamo Drafthouse grows, we remain dedicated to keeping the movie-watching experience safe for movie fans, serving quality food and drinks, and upholding high presentation standards. We are also striving to achieve long term goals by expanding the theater to new neighborhoods. Here are the eight objectives we hope to achieve as we grow:
- Share the movies we love with as many people as possible.
- Be a community cultural center.
- Build an audience for classic, golden era cinema.
- Build an audience for foreign language films.
- Build a youth and collegiate cinephile audience.
- Help local video stores survive as community cultural centers.
- Help preserve our vulnerable 35mm film history.
- Help preserve our even more vulnerable VHS film history.
Since we are expanding to several new cities this year, I thought I would bring together a few folks from the Alamo to answer any questions you might have.
-Tim League - Founder & Chief Executive Officer (TL)
-Mike Sherrill - Chief Creative Officer (MS)
-Henri Mazza - Director of National Promotions (HM)
-Tommy Swenson - Programmer (TS)
-Trish Eichelberger - Austin Market Concept Chef (TE)
-Jason Donoho - Research & Development Chef (JD)
-Bill Norris - Beverage Director (BN)
-Kayla Williams - Director of National First Run Promotions (KW)
-Casey Warnick - Social Media Manager (CW)
-Brandy Fons - Alamo Publicist (BF)
-Andrew McEathron - IT Manager (AM)
AMA Will start at 2:00 PM ET.
Ask Me (Us) Anything.
UPDATE 5:15 PM ET: thank you to everybody who participated in this AMA. We had a great time!
When SNAKES ON A PLANE came out we hired a local "rattlesnake juggler" to come put on a show before the movie. As they were pulling the snakes out of their burlap sack, the juggler's assistant was almost immediately bit. Pulling his hand back in shock he dropped the rattler which quickly slithered out into the crowd. As everyone screamed and jumped up on their seats the bitten guy whipped out a giant knife and slashed his hand open to drain out the venom, spraying blood everywhere. Actually I guess that was great. No regrets. - TS
I think it is still ART OF KILLING A CAT about 10 years ago. It was a doc about a guy who killed a cat and was going to eat it as a student art project. His last art film he killed a rooster and ate it. I was fascinated by the film and thought it brought up interesting debate between art and crime. Apparently lots of people like cats and didn't really care about the debate/context nor that this was a doc. We also did a show called Epilepsy Night with all the clips that have ever caused mass epileptic seizures in theaters and TV - including Mary Hart and the Japanese Pokemon episode. We got scared and rented an ambulance to be out front just in case. No seizures, but it was probably a dumb idea (that nobody really came to). - TL
The time I went to see something in IMAX at an AMC theater in town and it was just a regular theater with a mildly larger screen was probably the screening I regretted going to most... - HM
who's the biggest dick you've ever kicked out?
ok...i don't get to tell this story very often, so here goes. Several years ago we had a guy in a screening at our Lamar location. One of our programmers (Lars) happened to be in the screening and when this 'guest' started making some chatter during the feature, he was warned right away. The warning did not do the trick and so as the manager in the building at the time, Lars came to grab me.
Having done more than a few 'kick outs' I was pretty comfortable. So, I went in and asked the guest to step out in the lobby to talk to me. His response was a rather loud "F@@k you!."
Great...I'm thinking. This didn't go as planned.
So I collect myself and go back in and tell the guest if he does not come outside to chat with me, I have to call the cops. The guy responds with "F@@k you, call the cops!"
hmmm....guess he called my bluff, I'm thinking.
Well, as it turns out we had an advance promo screening and often the studios send in security to watch for piracy. Turns out the security team all had day jobs as prison guards.
So this time I walk back in with three suited security guards and the guy decides to step outside with me, but he spends the better part of the next several minutes berating us, before eventually being 'escorted' outside.
He eventually realized that if he stayed on site, he was going to end up going to jail.
Fortunately, that's pretty rare , but I'd say that guy wins the award you're looking for! (MS)
As you've noticed there's a lot of criticism that gets kicked around in the /r/Austin Sub-Reddit about how the Alamo Drafthouse is changing. In typical Austin fashion it was more or less insinuated that Alamo Drafthouse has gone mainstream and thus has lost the things that made it great. That being said, what would you like to say to those Austinites out there that see their beloved movie theater spreading across the country and are worried the Golden Age of Alamo is behind us? What is different/same with the Alamo theaters being built outside of Texas?
Thanks and keep it weird.
I struggled at first with the idea of expanding, but then I changed my perspective and really wanted to expand. By expanding we can do more to find a larger audience for the weird, oddball films we love. That is why I started Drafthouse Films, for example. A film like Miami Connection would never have found a large national audience without the expansion. As for those who say we are losing what was once great about Alamo, I disagree. I think we have incredible programmers right now. We are still executing the great series we were doing years ago, but are always adding new things. I'm still doing my best to keep the company on track and I don't think my tastes have changed all that much. - TL
To be honest, I think most of the problem is the new menu. It's clearly an "appeal to the masses and make cheap food" type of menu. I know that you're just running PR and damage control by saying you were trying to "improve" the menu, but a lot of your target audience is smart enough to not be fooled.
Believe me when I say that I understand your position as well. Running a business is expensive and efficiency is important. The food, however, was a BIG part of Alamo Drafthouse and now it's become a nice movie theater with food worse than TGIF or Chili's (though that baked pretzel with queso is AMAZING). I think you'll be able to find a middle ground though.
I still love Alamo and will continue to go as long as the core values stay the same, but there are plenty of competitors popping up which look more appealing every day.
Also, thanks for starting this trend in the first place.
Thanks for the honest feedback, while I have not been to a Chili's in quite a while, I certainly hope that we can do better! We are constantly looking to improve our menu, look for exciting specials every month as well as new menu items at our Slaughter Lane location. I am glad you like the Pretzel! JD
Any chance the "enter the dragon" pizza will ever grace the menu again?
It is off the menu, however we will always make it for you! We have those items in house and never say no if we have the things to make an item. JD
Would that include and Up N smoke pizza if I asked for it ? ......please please please
We have a great bacon pizza coming onto the Slaughter menu that features a lot of bacon! Look for it in June. JD
Hi Tim and Team, Thanks for taking the time do this. 13+ year customer (and unless film festival related, have not gone to another theater since 2006).
1 - Is there some reason we don't have 35mm at Slaughter?
2- Any way to correct Slaughter audience issues? Specifically: - Talking and cell phone checking is always a problem here - Late arrival policy; I've seen people come in late on couple of occasions and it has been distracting Slaughter is five minutes from my house but it's my least favorite Drafthouse location.
3- Could you modify the web site to allow membership/ registered customer information to speed ticket purchases? Related, allow us to cancel bookings without having to call the box office?
4 - Drafthouse Alliance: I wish this type of membership would carry over to the theater as well. I'd gladly pay a monthly/ yearly fee to get access to earlier bookings/ private screenings etc. I’d also like to see an AGFA Alliance at some point.
5 - Menu: Like others, I've lost a few favorites off this new menu and it's disappointing. I understand that corporate standardization/ cost cutting is probably the cause but I feel that the change has made some of the Drafthouse charm to disappear. How has the negative feedback been taken? Are there changes coming up? I understand the Puerco may be returning, so that's good to hear.
6- Please bring back the old No Talking bumper, the new one is very goofy.
Also, big thanks to Greg, Sam, Tommy and Joseph for continuing the non-standard programming fare. Those guys are awesome and their efforts are much appreciated.
1) We support 35mm at Village, Ritz, Lamar and Lake Creek. We thought we would just concentrate our 35mm programming there. Our rule is to always support it within a market/city, but not at all theaters if there are multiple ones.
2) I've been alerted to Slaughter texting/talking issues. We are currently retraining, expect iron fist enforcement really soon
3) We're working on this now - hope to launch this summer.
4) Nothing in the works here, but what I'm alluding to in 3 will give you some of this. Sorry to be vague, but this is an announcement you can expect in about a month.
5) We'll have new additions launching soon, and will be bringing back a few items in the fall. We're definitely listening to the feedback. It was a lot of change to the menu at one time, so future changes won't be quite as radical.
6) We change out the No Talking Bumper pretty regularly, so it will change again down the road.
What does a Beverage Director do all day long?
Drink and think about drinking. BN
So an alcoholic.
I drink like it's my job. BN
Tim and team, every time I'm blinded by someone texting on their phone or distracted by a baby crying in the back of a MIDNIGHT R-RATED showing, I desperately long for the Alamo Drafthouse locations in New York.
Thank you for loving movies and the movie-watching experience first, before anything else.
My question is: what has been your favorite "special event" thus far in terms of the creativity of the movie tie-in and the audience response?
There have been too many great events to ever possibly choose a favorite. Our ROAD WARRIOR Road Rally from last year was pretty spectacular though. Demolition derby drivers racing around a track smashing through barrels filled with nitro before watching Lord Humungous rule the wasteland was unforgettable. - TS
There have been way too many great times to pick one, but as far as audience excitement some of mine own favorites: People smoking at the screening of BREATHLESS on the closing night of the Colorado Street location, the SEMI-PRO screening when the entire audience had to dress as basketball players, "the shit" for the TROPIC THUNDER premiere, the JAWS Rolling Roadshow on the lake, I could go on, but you only asked for one. Oh wait, I can't leave out Robosaurus! -KW
I used to work as a projectionist at the Del Mar Theatre in Santa Cruz, CA and we very overtly took our inspiration for talking/texting policy from the Alamo Drafthouse. Our manager played your youtube video of that angry voicemail during a staff meeting.
Keep being awesome. Can't wait for the new location to open in SF.
Solidarity forever. Stay strong independent theaters! - TS
I've always appreciated your no talking/texting rule! Unfortunately, when some friends and I went to go see Magic Mike, it turned out to be the worst Alamo experience ever (yet still better than a regular theater on a good day, hardy har.) The theater was full of rowdy women who talked throughout the entire movie (even through the serious scenes), threw popcorn at the screen and wouldn't stop screaming. It was about 70% of the theater behaving this way, but management couldn't seem to do anything, and no one was escorted out. I talked to the manager after the movie and she said that almost every screening of Magic Mike was like that! I totally understand that this may have been unexpected and overwhelming for the staff, but I was wondering if the Alamo learned anything from this experience and if y'all had come up with some kind of protocol if something that crazy ever happens again?
There will be a Magic Mike 2, after all.
To be perfectly honest the opening weekend of Magic Mike had us brainstorming new policies on how to handle such a situation. You're right. Our staff was overwhelmed with the audience members' disregard for the policy. We don't want any movie to be disrupted even when it's due to the pure elation of the audience. We have had serious discussions about what the level of disruption needs to be before we stop the movie and address the audience as a whole. -KW
Alamo Team can you please replace those silly urinal cakes with smooth river stones like how the Alamo South Lamar use to have. When I would drink a few beers I would always challenge myself to try and shift a stone or two with my bladder powers. I have not succeeded to this day, not even close, but I have pissed off a few urinal mates.
Waterless urinals unfortunately changes the urinal cake / stone dynamic. But we have those little balls at Slaughter a lot, and you can totally make those dance around the bottom of the bowl, even if you've only had one beer! - HM
I'm a big fan of the pre-movie montages; I feel that I've lost if I don't arrive early enough to catch all of it. Questions:
- Who is responsible for creating them? Is it a group process?
- How long does it usually take?
- How far ahead of the movie release do you start?
- You always find super-obscure clips. What's your larger library beyond YouTube that you draw from?
Thanks! Always great to hear positive feedback on preshows. Until recently I was the one creating them but I've recently passed that incredibly fun duty on to a guy named Laird Jimenez. But we all are constantly making suggestions. And Sarah Pitre handles all her own preshows for the movies she programs. It can take anywhere from an hour to several days to put one together, depending on how deep we start digging and how meticulous we want to be with the editing. We're usually working on those about a month ahead of a movie's release. We rely a lot on our local video stores (Vulcan & I Luv here in Austin, plus support from Scarecrow in Seattle) and also our extensive personal collections from lifelong obsession. We have also discovered some very dark, mysterious corners of the internet in our quest for crazy videos. - TS
why did you decide to have the waiters take orders on ipads, when audience members get kicked out for texting? i have been consistently frustrated with how distracting the ipad lights are.
Servers are not supposed to use the handheld tablets after the feature starts. If you're seeing tablets used after the movie starts, please alert a manager so we can fix the issue. BN
The many people requesting the return of SUPER HAPPY FUN MONKEY BASH have inspired us to bring it back. Plans are being made RIGHT NOW!!! - TS
I'm a new englander who fell in love with the alamo experience on a trip to Austin TX and i can't wait to have an alamo here in NY. The Austin locations are the only ones Ive been to and I'm wondering if the business model stays the same in new markets. Will New York for instance have the same menu and lack of tolerance for bullshit within the theater during the show? Are beer lists tailored towards the locations?? Will NY see local beers for instance.
P.s.- the alamo is the greatest cinematic paradise in all of the world. Thank you for truly doing things right!!
We will have a similar menu in NY, but the NY chef will add his/her own spin to it and the seasonal specials will be unique to NY. We will have the same lack of tolerance for bullshit. Definitely. I'll leave the beer question to Bill. -TL
On the beer list, we'll always have a focus on local and regional breweries wherever we go. It's an important part of who we are and we're dedicated to maintaining that wherever we go. BN
How often do you end up throwing someone out?
We rarely have to kick people out, honestly. Most people know us for our strict policies and more than that, we have an awesome audience and community who appreciates a great movie watching experience. Usually people understand our environment and our policies. We have to issue warnings from time to time and that usually gets the job done. But for those who won't comply, we bring the boot and say goodbye! (MS)
You went into business with your wife? How did you two balance the work/home relationship? Any advice to give to newlyweds or newly-partnered business owners?
I found it important to really clearly subdivide the areas of responsibility and respect those boundaries. Karrie was in charge of hiring decisions, managed employees and the finances, I did the programming, maintenance and projection. We also have this rule that if there is a stalemate conflict, whoever cares more gets to win. We also find it really important to turn off the business from time to time and relax. I just thank god that Karrie has been really tolerant of me. - TL
Can you bring an Alamo Drafthouse to Atlanta? Sure we've got a ton of theaters but none that offer the types of entertainment that an AD would.
No plans yet, but I do love Atlanta. Maybe there is space above the Clermont Lounge. -TL
Are you the movie company I read about that held a JAWS screening in a lake?
Yup. We've done that a few times, actually. Here's some photos from one of the events in 2010: http://www.flickr.com/photos/darost/4863646514/in/photostream/ - HM
I was at the Alamo Drafthouse that recently opened in KC for a Quote-a-long of Elf. During said screening, I had to write a note because the girls next to us were talking loudly and texting and being obnoxious. When the manager came to talk to them, they denied wrongdoing and asked who complained. He quickly pointed me out and the rest of the movie was spent dealing with them literally screaming any quote that came onscreen, throwing food on the floor and kicking it toward us, etc. We didn't leave simply because we were in the middle of the center row, and didn't want to disturb anyone else. So my question is this-how is the training handled for the "managers" who will be kicking out patrons, and how do you stop these types of situations from happening? Clearly the manager wasn't comfortable with confrontation. It made me not want to go back. I did complain, on their Facebook page, and they apologized, but I haven't been back to a Quote-a-long since because it's easier to cover up your obnoxious behaviors when everyone is supposed to be yelling and singing and interacting. Anyhow, I know my post is long and I'm a lurker, so I probably won't be responded to, but it feels good to get it out there.
That's sad news to hear. We instruct all of our hosts to make it very clear that at Quote-Alongs you can QUOTE, but you can't TALK. And a guest should never be made uncomfortable for complaining about someone else being disruptive.
We're continually working on manager training and will tackle this one. Give a Quote-Along another chance in a bit and hit me up on Twitter or something to let me know if it works out! -HM @henrimazza
Since you appear to have the interest of fans in mind, I have a question about the Mondo poster end of the business.
You have fans that love movies, you love movies, you share this experience together. To heighten it, you've had custom posters made out of many cult and classic movies, and finally started to sell them.
It has however, reached the point where a poster sells out between 10 and 30 seconds, a fan buying it has less of a chance than someone who is going to resell it (this is not speculation, on the day of a poster drop just plug its name into ebay) for a massive profit, boxing out fans who don't have hundreds if not thousands to support their fandom.
Since the current model supports the "look how exclusive we are" ideal more than the "we love our fans, let's do something fun together" ideal, do you have any plans to switch to unlimited print runs? You could still offer limited small quantity variants to cover the resellers and uber-fans, have the regular edition only be sold for one day, or one hour in the afternoon when people are out of work.
As someone who both loves and displays your prints, but also camped out for 9 hours to get the olly moss star wars prints and made 2k on the internation resale, I have a foot in both camps.
The plan is to do at least one unlimited run a year. We plan to do a Mondo Reddit to answer more questions. -BF
Mondo will be doing more unlimited runs, the plan was to do one unlimited release a year. I know it is frustrating sometimes, but I don't expect the Mondo sales model to change. They have been gradually increasing some of the edition runs and will likely continue - TL
What was the youngest customer you had to kick out?
Smuggled in infants. -KW
As a Houstonian, I go to the Draft House all the time. I love the events you put on. Though I have two questions:
1) What exactly happened with the closure of the theater in West Oaks Mall. Were you kicked out, or was it a consensual parting of ways?
2) So, is Houston ever going to get a full bar? I love me some craft beer, but I am jealous of seeing the mixed drinks on the blog.
As for West Oaks - it was a consensual parting of ways. - TL
On #2, we're experimenting and evaluating the liquor programs in multiple markets and trying to see if it makes sense everywhere. BN
Do you give them a warning first, or is it a zero tolerance policy?
Anyone causing a disturbance gets a warning before they are asked to leave. -KW
Austin here. I feel the charm of the Drafthouse is slowly going away. Please help and make things better.
I feel the same way, especially since the South Lamar location is now gone. I grew up as a teenager in Austin, loving the drafthouse. Now I feel like it's just a corporate monopoly looking to cash in. Tim, do you feel like what you set out to create in a movie theater is still true?
S. Lamar is coming back, though. The whole area is getting remodeled.
Hold judgement until you see the July programming announcement. I think it is some of the best we've ever done. I think we are able to do more now than we were before, especially with Drafthouse Films. We're finding an audience nationally for movies like Wake in Fright and Miami Connection. That's the aspect of expansion that keeps me fueled. - TL
I have full faith in the Drafthouse Films side of things, ya'll have come out with some great films already,
Three Four Lions and Bull Head are amazing films. I'm still hesitant about my theater experience not being the same, I'm losing that feeling of community when I walk through the door.
I've recently taken over programming at the Ritz. My aim is to really revitalize it as a local community theater, ignoring more of the national programming that we're also doing and really focusing on bringing the best possible film programming I can. We can never recapture the raw chaos and wonder of old Colorado but with the resources now at our disposal I think we're on the verge of improving our programming to maybe the best it's ever been. Around August is when things will really start to shift in terms of programming at the Ritz and I think it's going to be really great. - TS
I'm curious if you can pinpoint what gives you that feeling? - TL
I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the Simpson Movie with a beer in my hand thanks to your drafthouse. What do you think is the best movie/drink pairing that you have been able to offer over the years?
I'm sure everyone has their favorite moments, but personally I loved our Old School Quote-Along with kegs in the theater. Everyone could still order beer at their seat, but a lot of folks stood up to stand in line for something out of the keg instead. That made that college party feel come alive for sure. - HM
This one is tough, because there's been so many great events. My favorites are always the beer feasts--the epic Lagunitas/Boogey Nights dinner last year stands out. As does the Oskar Blues/The Jerk event. BN
Any updates on the progress of your new location in Kalamazoo? Can't wait for it to open. It used to be my favorite location to see movies. The downtown scene is absolutely amazing. Can't beat the local beer scene either.
I am so excited for the local beer available in Kalamazoo. The brew scene out there is amazing. BN
When my boyfriend and I made the long trip from Melbourne, Australia to Austin, your theatre was our favorite experience. We ended up going twice, and seeing Cabin in the Woods was one of my fondest memories. So, my question: how do you make those strawberry thickshakes? Those things are just brain bleedingly delicious.
I can't share the exact recipe, but the secret is the smallest addition of balsamic vinegar. BN
Forgive me if this is a silly question, but what do you mean by saying our "even more vulnerable VHS film history"?
There are a tremendous amount of films only currently available to view on VHS. Roughly one third to one half of the films once released on VHS have never made the leap to any other home video format and many of those never will. These represent an awesome portion of movie history, the glorious age of the mom n pop video store when shelves were overflowing with slashers, sex comedies, ninjas, warlocks, barbarians and cyborgs. And of course there are all sorts high brow serious international and art films only available on VHS as well. Once these tapes decay or are lost, many of these movies will be gone forever. We aim to keep these movies alive by hosting a monthly series called VIDEO HATE SQUAD where we screen movies that have only ever seen release on video tape. We try to make it a powerful force of fun. - TS
I always hear great stories about the Alamo on the Roosterteeth Podcast. Do you know the guys, and if you do, what do youthink of them? They seem to be in love with you guys.
I really like those guys. They used to come and DOMINATE when we did in-theater Halo tournaments, way before Rooster Teeth came into being. -TL
Love the Drafthouse. Been there since I learned you guys existed. I know this is an AMA, but I'd like to add a suggestion/question here. You just recently changed your menus and you removed one of my favorite items, the Fish and Chips. Nothing beats fish, chips, Guinness, and a movie. I was wondering if it'd be possible for you to bring that back?
That was a frozen item that we were not very proud of, It may come back as a freshly made special in August.
My question is for Henri Mazza. How soon is too soon to send a fetus to boarding school?
NEVER. In today's fast-paced economy we need our next generation Americans getting the finest education possible immediately after conception. - HM
Why did the menu change to this shitty hipster food from the favorites we all know and love?
I am sorry that you feel that way. When our competition started to name there items after movies and serve box to fryer entrees we decided to go against the grain and make our food nearly 100% in house and serve local, seasonal and organic food whenever possible. In addition, we have gone to a model where as we expand greatly we are going to have a "Market Chef" in each region to incorporate local flavors. For example the hatch green chile queso may not sell as well in NYC, however a plate of house cured lox & cream cheese may be a better fit! JD
Do you have any plans for a loyalty program of some kind, and if so, can you take into the account the thousands of dollars we've already spent with you?
We are working on one we hope to announce this summer! No specifics yet, but hopefully soon. -KW
Hey Tim, how's it going?
It is going well. Ready to answer today's hard-hitting questions. -TL
Do you have an exact date for when the new Lakeline is opening? I drove by the other day, and it looks done from the outside. Looking forward to checking it out with the new bar as well.
We don't have the exact date nailed, but you're right to think it's getting close. Look for it to open sometime in July.- KW
Hello all. Love (and Remember!) the Alamo. Been attending all the theaters for a few years, especially South and Lakeline (Can't Stop the Serenity weekends!!). My question is.... When (or if) do you guys plan on "finally" using that Alamo Drafthouse building down in the Rio Grande Valley? It's been there for years!!!
Long story on that one, but there are currently no plans to use that building.
The theaters in Austin are your favorites right?
I live in Austin, so those are the ones I get to the most. Our most beautiful theater is the Mainstreet in Kansas City, no question. - TL
When is the New York City Drafthouse(s) going to open?
Yonkers is Q3 of this year....mid to late summer! Metro is planned for Q2 2014! Brooklyn is 2015!
Sorry if this is addressed elsewhere: how long until we can enjoy the AD movie experience in San Francisco? (I can't wait!)
We are super excited to be in SF! Looking at the second quarter of 2014.
Three questions for all of you awesome people:
What are your favorite Drafthouse Films films?
Can you share any anecdotes you've heard from the making of The Act of Killing? It must have been a crazy time.
Is Devin Faraci's beard as luxurious as it looks?
- I can't pick one, I love them all! I did really love working on Bullhead and walking the red carpet at the Oscars.
- We'll have a behind-the-scenes clip on the Bluray when it comes out of a simulated sex scene between Anwar and the drag queen... it is nuts. There's actually a ton of extra footage and a long cut of the film, about 45 minutes longer, that we will show a few times in select markets.
- I have fortunately had plenty of time to nuzzle in Devin's beard and it is as expected, a fluffy paradise. - TL
- Yes. Devin's beard is glorious. But his cheeks are nice, too, if you ever get a chance to see him clean-shaven. - HM
With growth, change is to be expected. Some of the changes have been good: additions to the menu, more events. Some are really disappointing: the decision to nix "Bad Ass Cinema" from tshirts and advertising, changing the policy on children permitted into certain shows, assigned seating (not a big deal for a couple, but a huge pain in the ass for larger groups).
Are these types of changes put in place because of the national expansion/franchises?
Is it possible to keep some original elements, if only in Austin?
Fun fact: when the Alamo first opened on Colorado St, the servers wore button down white shirts with ties. We then quickly realized, "Hey, maybe a black shirt would be better." We switched to bowling shirts, then started making T-shirts when we opened the first iteration of Mondo in the old box office space at the bottom of the stairs there. And speaking of Mondo - that company started out as an iron on T-shirt brand! Then we decided to improve it and had Justin build an iconic brand of world class movie poster collectibles.
Which is to say - we've always been working to continually improve on what we offer our guests, and that's been part of our DNA since day one. We've been working on further improvements while also working on a national expansion strategy that includes franchising, but we would have worked to improve the quality of the experience of going to the Alamo without opening more theaters. Will that result in making some people unhappy sometimes? Sure, but then we'll keep working to improve things until we find more solutions.
Reserved seating was something we wanted to implement when the technology was available because many of our guests wanted that option as opposed to waiting in line.
But we're continually working to improve on those updates as well, and we're definitely listening to all of the feedback we receive through channels like this, our social media, manager feedback, etc.
There have been conversations on various methods of helping larger groups more easily enjoy assigned seating (and one fan did a great job of posting an image of his seats to Facebook yesterday so other friends could find him), and hey - we have an entire Digest that's Badass now!
We'll keep on working on improving each aspect of visiting the Alamo, though, and we'll do that while also helping other people in cities that don't have great theaters yet through our expansion plans... - HM
Hey Tim! Never met you in person, but I love you, man. Hero worship aside, I attended my first Fantastic Fest last year as a member o' the press from Denver, which was also my first trip to Austin. Needless to say, I fell in love with both and constantly extol The Alamo to family and friends as the only way to go see a movie. Once you go Drafthouse, you never go Craphouse (trademark pending).
Anyhow, did your Alamo model come from something as simple as going to cookie cutter AMC and Regals, being irritated with the inconsiderate mouth breathers that inhabit such places, and thinking "There's gotta be a better way"?
Also, can I work for the Alamo? I'll perform any manner of vile deed necessary. Thanks! ;)
That's basically it. My wife and I quit our jobs (she was a research biologist, I was an engineer for Shell) and wanted to build a movie theater that we wanted to go to - fun events, local connection, great presentation, no ads, no talking, no babies. Those were our first priorities, and they came out of the gate.
As for working at the Alamo - we're always looking for good folks!
I live in KC and love that you guys bought the mainstreet theater from AMC, but why on earth couldn't you have put in seats that were at least half as comfortable as the ones you took out?
I'm sorry you don't like the seats. It was a tough call, but we decided to go with our standard seating and table configuration - it was the only way that the place would make financial sense - it was losing money with the big seats that were in there. Its such an odd theater in a way - it is HUGE, but even now only has about 500 seats - TL
Hey Drafthouse! The manly half and I moved from Austin four months ago and are eagerly awaiting the opening of the Brooklyn location. Any chance Master Pancake will happen up here? The rest of the Magnited States of America (where yer-you are free) feels left out.
The Pancake crew is always gradually growing and trying to bring laughs to as many theaters as possible. They occasionally tour and are working on developing teams to make this more common. But there aren't too many people as funny as those dudes and they don't want to ever compromise the magic. - TS
I worship at the altar of Alamo Drafthouse. I refuse to go to any other theater because your policies, your service, the movies, the special events, the booze, and the food* are exceptional and make for an experience that you can't get anywhere else.
*I am disappointed in the recent menu changes. I went to Slaughter recently and had one of the worst burgers ever. Do you have any plans on revamping the menu to its previous awesomeness?
What was wrong with the burger? There will unfortunately always been some human error in food service, but I'm pretty happy with the burger lately. I'd like to know more. Next burger is on me if you want to give it another try. -TL
We did edit the menu quite a bit, however we are do have alot of new items in the pipeline that incorporate guest feedback and as always we feature monthly movie tie in specials that also incorporate some updates of old favorites. JD
Also, as we have moved forward with menu revamps and streamlining we are creating space for the local market chefs to have more room to play. We also plan on doing updated improved versions of some of the old favorites as specials or "one offs".-TE
How do you explain your extremely disruptive waitstaff? I've had countless movies ruined not by the audience, but by servers talking to me and upselling often during film climaxes.
I really don't think you can tout your nanny-state policies when most of the disruption in your movie theater is caused by your staff.
We obviously don't want to have disruptive staff. We work with them during training to emphasize stealth service. But it's also not a perfect model and there are some distractions that will happen as we drop off checks or confirm you got the right order. Our job is to minimize the distractions associated with service.
As to up-selling during the climax of the film, that's not something we ask our staff to do. My best recommendation here is to realize that our managers are hungry for feedback. If you ever feel like there's something out of place in the experience, let us know via email or grab someone after the feature. We're constantly trying to improve and often this is a matter of coaching a specific individual. (MS)
I love the Alamo Drafthouse, but some things seem to be trending in bad directions to my eyes. Things like seasonal specials are updated less frequently. The menu changed to seemingly be more streamlined but consequently got rid of a lot of favorites (like some of the entrees, etc.). The beer list is out of date often. Trends like these examples seem to move the Alamo more towards other lesser movie theaters. I mean I still won't go anywhere except the Alamo but the difference is lessening. Is there going to be any movement towards keeping the Alamo worlds above other theaters? For instance I remember a survey about people wanting healthier options like fruit instead of fries for sides, but nothing seemed to have come from it. Also, is South Lamar still on track to open this Fall?
Seasonal specials are updated monthly with regards to movie tie ins and the specials on the menu are updated bi annually this year and quarterly next year. We added several healthy options in the last change and are constantly trying to find a balance between healthy options and indulgent movie food, with even more light options on the way. JD
Some of the beer list issues have come about because there's so many great new beers being offered from local brewers. We're actively working on keeping our staff informed of the rotation choices and trying to make the beer list current at all times. BN
Do you guys make money on Weird Wednesdays or is that just a labor of love?
Labor of love all the way. Admission has had to go from free to $1 to now $3 (where we hope to keep it for as long as absolutely possible) to be able to pay servers and keep the theater supplied with electricity and working toilets. But we really don't keep an eye on the bottom line for stuff like Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday. We do them because we love them. - TS
Are there currently plans for a Seattle Drafthouse? If not, what are some basic expectations for somebody who wants to pursue opening one?
We love Seattle, but don't have any plans to open there as of now. -KW
You can get info on how to open your own Alamo here- http://drafthouse.com/franchise. We would love to be in Seattle, hopefully one day soon!- BF
A question for Bill Norris...
Bill, I wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your series of articles on Badass about MAD MEN cocktails last year. Pulitzer Prize: Internet Edition worthy. Excellently written pieces that really gave me a sense of the history of said drinks and an appreciation of the craft.
I still read the 'Your Guide to Drinking This Weekend' series, and love that too, but I have to ask if you're planning on any further specific series that tie a particular piece of pop culture with mixed drinks.
Thanks, Bill. :)
Yeah, Bill! Make it happen! - HM
Thank you so much. I have a great time writing those articles and usually learn something new each time.
It's an interesting question about pop culture/drinks and articles. If you have any ideas on a series, I'd love to run it by Devin and Meredith. BN
Will you some day cross the Atlantic into Europe?
There aren't plans to do that this week or anything, but the future is wide open! In the meantime we're actively pursuing partnerships with friends at PictureHouse theaters in the UK, and we're fortunate enough to work with a lot of European directors through Drafthouse Films and Fantastic Fest, so we're doing what we can as we focus on theatrical expansion in North America first. - HM
Not a question, but a comment, gotta say I enjoy the Mexican Vanilla shakes, mmmm so good. Keep on going ADH, the little lady and I enjoy going to your theater, especially with the reserved seating.
Thank you! We recently added a bunch of new "adult" shakes with booze in them too. I'm pretty psyched about them--they're addicting and fun.
If you want to see your own shake on an Alamo menu, we're going to do the Milk Shake Contest again this year. Details will be coming soon, but for a refresher, here's what last year's looked like: http://drafthouse.com/blog/entry/milkshake_contest
First and foremost, I'd like to thank you for being one of the few theater chains that actually seems to respect film as an art. Theaters that care are becoming few and far between, and it's kind of horrifying.
As an Upper West Sider, I'm waiting for the one on 100th with baited breath, but right now, all I've got is 2014.
Any chance you guys might have a more specific window for an opening?
Not until we start construction which hasn't happened. It will be 2014 though or else I'll be really, really sad. Hopefully first half.
Thank you so much for making going to the movies the event it deserves to be.
On that note, STAY OUT OF ALBUQUERQUE! When I retire from the military in 10 years, I am going to steal your concept and open a theater there.
I called dibs first!
Dibs are legally binding in NM I think. I respect your dibs. - TL
With the recent national expansions, what made you decide to go with a standardized menu over regional menu offerings? Were I taking holiday, I'd be considerably more inclined to visit an Alamo outside my home market if the menu selections reflected the regional tastes.
The menus at different locations across the country are going to be regionally focused with a local market chef in each area to incorporate local ingredients and flavor. JD
Hey! I've never had a chance to go to one of your theaters but i can imagine its a great experience. Was wondering if you knew anything about the upcoming The ABCS of Death sequel contest. Thanks.
We were just talking about that this morning. Keep your eyes on Badass Digest for an announcement in the near future - HM
How did you decide on Richardson of all places to build in DFW?
Why not East Dallas, Greenville Ave., or Oak Cliff? These are all lively, active, and diverse neighborhoods in Dallas proper which some people compare to Austin. There are a lot of young creative types of people here who support local breweries and farmers and are involved in the betterment of the community through art, music, and cinema.
Richardson is just an old suburb with corporate office buildings and families with kids and a dog.
There are a wide variety of reasons that go into planning the first location in any given new market. But the good news is that once we open that location we keep going from there.
We're excited for Richardson (we like dogs, too: http://cf.drafthouse.com/_uploads/images/FrankenweenieRedCarpet_LoRes_JP_MG_3852.JPG), but we're excited to expand throughout DFW as well! - HM
A question for Bill Norris - what's in the pipeline after Silence of the Lambs wine? Pulp Fiction milkshake mix?
I can't really comment at this time, but we're always working on something new and exciting. We've got a few things up our sleeves. BN
How long before you have a location in Florida? :D
No plans for Florida as of yet. - TL
I am actually wondering if there is going to be a reopening for the South Lamar Location and how I can get in on that jaz?
South Lamar will re-open, along with the Highball, in the first quarter of 2014. Can't wait to get the Highball back up and running. BN
What film screening did you regret the most?
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