SURREY — Going to a movie in Surrey is a lot more comfortable these days.
Operators of the city’s two largest first-run movie theatres are installing power recliners in all of their auditoriums.
Both chains began renovation work in their theatres last fall, in phases.
On Friday (Feb. 24), the Landmark property in Guildford will open four more renovated auditoriums that boast power-recliner seats throughout.
The theatre has 12 auditoriums, as does Cineplex’s Strawberry Hill property.
Old-style movie seats are a thing of the past in both theatres.
“We want to give movie-goers a more comfortable experience, and these new recliners are what people are asking for,” Bill Walker, Landmark’s chief operating officer, told the Now.
He said the company will spend close to $5 million to renovate the Guildford property, inside and out.
“The next four auditoriums will now be renovated and should be open by mid-April, and the lobby and concession area will also be renovated over the next few months,” Walker noted.
With larger seats comes reduced capacity in each of the theatres.
At Guildford, the theatre will lose 55 per cent of its seats once the renovation work is completed, with the total number reduced from approximately 3,000 to 1,300.
“The theatre was underutilized from a capacity perspective,” he revealed. “Typically, we saw 15 per cent capacity during a given movie screening, on average.”
The company’s strategy involves fewer but more comfortable seats in its auditoriums, with a reserved adult seat priced at $11.25.
Brooks LeBoeuf, Landmark’s regional director of operations, gave the Now a tour of the Guildford theatre last week.
He called the power recliners “a game-changer” for the company.
“What we’re seeing is, yeah, we lose half the seats, but people are coming more often now, and we’re seeing a change in that business,” LeBoeuf said. “Friday, Saturday and Tuesday were our busy nights. Well now, Monday is becoming, like, the new Friday. People are learning that movies tend to sell out on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday, so they’ll change their movie-going habits to just come here on a Monday instead. So we’re adding business and we’re spreading it out evenly during the week, which is good for us because it’s kind of a roller coaster on scheduling to go from super-crazy busy one night to nothing the next, a ghost town.”
As part of renovations, crews have removed the giant King Kong gorilla and fighter jet once suspended from the lobby ceiling.
“It will look like an entirely new building in here by July,” LeBoeuf said.
In auditoriums, power recliners are positioned in “love seat” pairings, and are spread out enough to eliminate disruptions of the “excuse me, pardon me” kind.
“These seats create more of intimate space where people aren’t as distracted by what others are doing,” LeBoeuf noted. “You could be fully reclined and someone could get by you without you having to move – there’s that much space between rows of seats. That’s not the case in traditional auditoriums with regular theatre seats, where you have to stand up, or semi-stand, to let someone by to go to the concession or washroom or whatever.
“Give it five years,” he added, “and I don’t think we’ll see a theatre with regular seats in this business – that’s just me guessing, but this really is the future of movie-going, I think.”
Landmark recently launched an ATOM app that allows users to order tickets, reserve a specific seat and, if they choose, tell friends exactly where they’re sitting for a movie, so they can book a nearby seat.
“People can also order concession items with the app and pick up their food in a line reserved for ATOM customers,” LeBoeuf explained. “You walk up and it geo-targets, so it gets dinged the second you’re on the property, if you turn that feature on, and your order will be ready when you walk up to the counter.”
At Cineplex’s Strawberry Hill property, work began last November to replace all existing seats with ones that fully recline. The theatre will remain open during renovations, done in stages.
“We’ll do two auditoriums at a time to start, and each stage will take about two or three weeks,” Sarah Van Lange, director of communications with Toronto-based Cineplex, said at the time.
The movie theatre opened in December of 1998, not long before Famous Players built and opened its theatre in Guildford, which Landmark purchased in 2013.