Since this is a relatively new concept, I will begin by explaining that “Fork & Screen” refers to the latest trend in the movie theater/cinema experience. Many upscale theaters have recently undergone remodeling to their lobbies to include bars with seating areas so that early-arriving patrons can kick back and relax while waiting for their movies to start. Additionally, the movie rooms have been remodeled by essentially replacing every other row of seating with tables. There is more to it than that, of course as the seats themselves are vastly different, but I’ll get more into that later. What are these tables for? Well, for food and drink; thus the “fork” part.
With that said, until this past Saturday, the 16th of July, I’d seen this phenomenon, but I hadn’t experienced it. The idea seemed a grand one, particularly in light of waning box office tallies. Theaters had to do something new to get people to come back and spend money. It was a matter of their survival.
My wife and I decided to make an event of the final Harry Potter movie. Both our children are big fans, so we figured it would be a treat for them to see the 3D version of the movie while eating more than just popcorn and soda. My wife made the reservations which came out to $40 for the 4 tickets. I would normally cringe at that steep price, but I figured we would at least be getting something more for our money than usual.
I will admit it was a bit exciting, even for the adults, as we walked to Theater 1. The bustle of the ushers/waiters in the corridor struck me immediately as a “Dorothy” moment; “Toto, I don’t think we’re in a typical theater anymore.” “Woof!”
Seating is assigned, so we had to find our row. There were some people in our seats; we never found out exactly why, but we had to wait for them to clear out, which took about 10 minutes. And that was when I started noticing “things”.
There are horizontal rectangular menus with plastic covers and laminated pages at each setting on the tables–I use “setting” loosely here to mean in front of each seat. There are no napkins or utensils on the tables, only the menus and 3D glasses in their plastic bags. I picked up a menu to browse while I waited. Immediately my fingers became engooed with the sticky remains of an unknown number of prior patrons. Considering this was an early 12:40 pm show, I had to wonder not if the menus were cleaned after each show or even after each day, but if they were ever cleaned at all!
I peered at the table top and… well, I was very suddenly reminded of how, in regular theaters, we all learn at an early age that whatever you put on the floor you put there at risk of becoming engooed with the mysterious sticky-slimy gore that lives on all theater floors. It lives there because, as far as we know, theater floors are never truly cleaned, merely swept. I have to believe that the same is true of the table tops. At no time did I see any of the wait staff wipe down a table; I have to imagine that it must happen, but even when the other family vacated our seats, taking their drinks and two of our 3D glasses with them, their trash–shredded straw paper covers and the plastic bags from our 2 missing 3D glasses–and cup condensation rings remained on the table. I flicked the trash against the forward edge of the table and gingerly picked up the new menu, further gumming up my fingers. Our orders were taken and I was able to sit back and mostly relax. I’m not a germophobe by any means, but I did have a screaming urge to run to the bathroom and wash the mystery goo off my hands. But considering the state of the environment, I was sure I’d be engooed again by other objects before long. So I resisted the urge.
Now back to the seating and spacing from my intro above. The spacing is almost luxurious in comparison to a regular theater. I said it was more than just every-other row being removed, and it is, at least at this theater. At a guess, I would say there is almost 5 feet of space for each patron, front to back, and about 2 feet side to side. Seat dividers can be tilted back out of the way to sit closer to your loved ones or cuddle with your SO. The seats in this theater were faux leather–presumably for ease of cleaning–and very cushy. They reclined a good amount, which was nice, but left the table too far away even in an upright position. That despite my long arms. To eat, I had to bend forward or risk drizzling ketchup or some sauce all over myself.
The next “thing” I noticed was that the tables have a string of yellow LED lights running along the backstop. I commented to my wife that I hoped they would also dim when the theater lights dimmed for the movie. They did not. Not one bit. As the rest of the room goes dark, the lights actually seem to intensify–the don’t of course, but that’s the effect. Had the lights been recessed up into a groove in the backstop, that might have been an improvement. But they were glowing brilliantly at you the whole time. Needless to say, it was very distracting. And it isn’t like they even help you see what you are eating since they are slightly below the level of the food serving trays. At best you get a vague impression of what your food looks like.
The food was actually decent. I wasn’t really sure what to expect–remember, up to this point, I was under the impression that the $40 covered the tickets and the meal. Oops! I spoiled the ending. I had Thai Chicken Tenders which were just plain tenders with a spicy dipping sauce. It came with fries. My wife had a tasty smoked bbq brisket quesadilla, my son a pizza and my daughter a chicken quesadilla. We all pretty much ate it all. I found myself wondering if they cleaned the trays any better than they cleaned the tables and menus–but I had to put that thought out of my mind and believe with all my heart that they did. People would start getting sick if they didn’t, and they couldn’t risk ruining this new venture by allowing unsanitary conditions to reach that level.
Oh yes, we had to ask for napkins. They were not included with the meal. 😉
At one point, as Nagini slithered across the screen, the waitress slihouetted by and dropped a left a leathery rectangle on the table between my wife and I. It looked suspiciously like a restaurant bill wallet. My wife picked it up, scanned it and reached for her wallet. I asked her, “Wait, the meal wasn’t included in the ticket price?” She said, “No. It’s extra.” “How much extra,” I asked, the Thai doing a little gurgle in my stomach. “$52.” I managed to contain myself so as not to disturb the other patrons, but my head was screaming, “What the hell?! $92 to see a movie!!!
It is very possible that this was when my migraine began–though I still blame those stupid little yellow LEDs. Either way, that definitely aggravated the headache. I reminded myself over and over for the rest of the movie that we had done this just to see what the hype was all about and for the kids. And that we would never ever do it again.
The movie ended as my head was set to explode from the migraine. I finally got to wash my hands, and made sure my whole family did as well–the children are less discerning about engooed hands. As I drove home with the world spinning and the brilliant sunlight threatening to crack open my skull despite my peering through slitted eyes, I contemplated our first Fork & Screen experience. It was a $92 extravaganza that was hardly extravagant or worth the money except that we spent a couple of hours as a family, even if sitting watching a larger version of a boob-tube.
Would I recommend this to others? Not unless you have loads of disposable cash and consider that the regular $18+ price of a movie ticket is just beneath you. If you want cheap food and a movie, go to your favorite diner before or after the movie; you have more selections, a better price and a cleaner eating environment.