Dinner and a movie is an adage that dates to the early years of feature films, but alcoholic beverages as a portion of that notion is spilling into movie houses that increasingly are serving beer, wine and liquor.
In Columbia, only two movie houses have state approval to sell beer and wine, while a third ran into a stumbling block this month. The Charleston area has a couple of theaters with permits, according to a quick check last week with the South Carolina Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Licensing division.
Nickelodeon Theatre along Main Street, an art house, has served alcoholic beverages for years, its executive director, Andy Smith said. The Regal Cinemas-owned Columbiana Grande in the Harbison entertainment district also serves beer and wine, according to the licensing division.
But an effort by Wynnsong 10 Cinemas along Forest Drive to get a permit faced protests, which delayed or perhaps stopped its license application. The theater has yet to disclose whether it will persist with an appeal.
Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike Cinemas, which owns Wynnsong, has 90 days to ask the Alcohol Beverage Commission to consider granting a license. Further appeals would go to court.
Adult beverage at the movies have support, however.
“I think it’s an excellent idea and clearly a growing trend,” said Hank Powell, a 33-year Lexington County resident. “It’s also a good way to support our local breweries, assuming the theaters stock local beers as Nick (Nickelodeon) does.”
Nationally, the number of theaters serving alcohol remains small – about 5 percent – but increasingly local theaters and national chains look to alcohols as a way to add to their bottom lines and satisfy moviegoers’ expectations of a night on the town.
Some 200 to 400 of the 5,700 movie theaters in the U.S. serve alcohol, according to National Association of Theatre Owners trade association spokesman Patrick Corcoran. But the trend, only about two years old, is expected to rise, he said.
“One of the reasons theaters do this is to offer a lot of experiences,” which adds to customer enjoyment, Corcoran said.
Though movie houses have high-tech visual offerings such as ditigal viewing and the IMAX experience, they still must face competition from home movies and online content that is winning consumers and critical acclaim, experts say.
A beer or glass of wine at a movie is like drinking alcohol at baseball parks or outdoor concerts, supporters say.
Critics worry that alcohol might trigger disturbances at theaters fueled by more frequent bathroom breaks.
The trade association’s Corcoran and others say that is not what experience has shown. The Nickelodeon’s Smith said that hasn’t happened at his downtown theater, either.
“The Nickelodeon has had a beer and wine license for as long as I’ve ever known,” he said. “It’s always been in place ... and the Nick is similar to many art house cinemas around the country in that fact.
“What I would say about our experience is, we love it because, especially with our beer selection, it allows us to show off some different local breweries.”
But art houses traditionally serve an older audience than mainstream movie theaters, Smith said.
Whether it is nonprofit art houses or commercial movie theaters, all movie houses confront the same issues in attracting audiences, Smith said.
“As you face more and more challenges from on-demand and Netflix, the Internet and different services like that, you need to make sure your movie experience is something that people are willing to pay a premium for,” he said.
“Certainly food and beverage options are something that not just the Nick, but other theaters are paying a lot of attention to,” Smith said. “That’s why you’re seeing a lot of these places that have full-service meals and things like that.”
Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398