No standing in line. No jockeying for a seat. Dinner, and drinks, if you like, brought to you as you relax in a reclining seat and watch the action unfold on the screen.
That's the formula — more comfort, fewer hassles — that officials with Gold Class Cinemas are counting on to lure Austin movie fans.
It comes at a price: $29 for tickets at the door, although that drops to $22 for customers who join the free loyalty club. That's roughly two to three times what other theaters charge.
The company officially opened a 38,000- square-foot, eight-screen theater at the Domain Friday, with fans strolling in for a 10 a.m. showing of "Iron Man 2." The company also opened a location in Fairview, north of Dallas.
Mark Mulcahy, Gold Class Cinemas' vice president of marketing, said the company chose Central Texas because "Austin is a city that likes unique experiences."
"The city has this incredible background in film. There are tons of filmmakers in Austin," Mulcahy said. "It's the perfect place for Gold Class, with a lot of people who seriously love movies."
Gold Class' Austin facility had several "soft opening" events before Friday. They included a viewing party for the NFL Draft, with former University of Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence as a guest, said David Schuler, general manager of the Austin facility.
"The response has been overwhelming," Schuler said.
Gold Class' website describes its movie experience as being "equivalent to flying first class," but it might best be described as an upscale version of the dinner-and-a-movie concept long offered by Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Instead of standing in line for admission or snacks, patrons, who have reserved their seats, are ushered into a lounge where they can order drinks. When it's time for their movie to start, they stroll into a theater with between 24 and 40 reclining seats in the space where a typical theater might have several hundred seats. Each seating station has a small table with a call button to summon the waitstaff to order drinks and dinner — or even to ask for a pillow or a blanket.
The menu ranges from appetizers and burgers to a New York strip steak sandwich and house-made beignets for dessert. There are nearly 30 varieties of wines and two dozen brands of beer available, as well as mixed drinks.
With appetizers averaging about $12 and entrees about $14, a night at the movies can easily run more than $100 per couple.
The Alamo theaters don't offer the same level of upscale amenities, but movies plus a meal for two there could run in the $50 to $60 range, with admission $9.25 per person, appetizers averaging about $6 and entrees about $9 per person.
However, Mulcahy said the discounts available to loyalty club members and other special events, such as a half-price menu night on Tuesdays, make the Gold Class experience "really available for everybody, for anybody who loves movies."
Mulcahy said that as of Thursday, about 8,500 people in Austin had signed up for the loyalty club and more than 3,000 tickets had been sold.
"That's our strongest opening to date, just in ticket sales and membership," Mulcahy said. He said membership and ticket sales have tended to grow by about 20 percent per year in the chain's other U.S. cinemas.
The Austin theater is north of Dillards in the new part of the Domain, which is on Braker Lane east of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1).
Gold Class Cinemas now operates six cinemas in the United States, with locations in California, Illinois and Washington in addition to Austin and Dallas. The company is a subsidiary of Village Roadshow Ltd., an Australia-
based media and entertainment company that includes a film distribution arm and also operates theme parks and radio stations.