In Searchlight Pictures’ black comedy thriller The Menu, elite guests arrive on an exclusive coastal island restaurant to enjoy a lavish meal, only to find that there’s more on the night’s menu than food. Guests at an advance screening of The Menu, hosted at select Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas locations on November 16, didn’t have to travel quite as far to enjoy their own immersive five-course experience, part of the luxury-dine in chain’s new “Movie and a Meal” series.
At the helm of “Movie and a Meal” is Cinépolis Culinary Director James Atkinson, who spoke to Boxoffice Pro about the luxe custom menu concept. Atkinson previously served as F&B Director at Moviehouse & Eatery, joining Cinépolis when they acquired the chain in 2019 as part of the Mexican exhibitor’s move into the US.
Given the the focus on food in The Menu, this concept seems like such a perfect pairing. How did the idea for Movie and a Meal begin?
Movie and a Meal was something we conceived last year, but it never really came together until Searchlight Pictures approached us about their new thriller The Menu. They wanted to do something special for the film. We’re known for our chef-driven menu, and we curate seasonal specials. Pairing the movie with a special course dinner just felt like a perfect fit.
What did guests who attended experience?
Guests at the event experienced a thrilling five course tasting menu curated by myself and our team. Everything was coursed out and perfectly designed to enhance the movie watching experience. We’re not serving the same exact items that were in the movie, but our training department worked really hard timing things perfectly. When courses dropped in the movie, we were trying to drop courses within the same timeframe. Within a few seconds of each other. We did the whole clapping thing, ‘Thank you, chef’. We got the servers and the vendors involved. It was pretty exciting.
That’s fantastic. What was the process of turning this concept to reality?
Working with our operations teams, and especially the marketing department, was key to making this event a reality. The opportunity came to us only a few weeks out, so the timeline was kind of crunched. We really had to work together in unison to make it happen. Everyone agreed it was such a great opportunity, which made the fast-paced planning easy. One of the biggest challenges was supply chain issues, finding the right plates for smaller portions. We’re a theater and our portions are pretty significant. Doing something like this was kind of tricky with the timeline given, but we got through it. Thankfully, having created these vendor relations, you have people to help you push through the process when something like this pops up. In F&B, something always comes up, so it’s good to have relationships with your vendors to help you push through.
How did you arrive at the menu for The Menu?
We had to think about it from the perspective of multiple locations executing at the same exact time within different time zones. Everything was a 7pm showing in all the regions, which was West Coast and Central. We had to do it all at the same time. The unfortunate thing was that I didn’t get to see the movie prior, so I worked with our filming agents, who walked me through the expectation of the movie, the intensity. I knew that the final course was a burger. So that was a given, that we were going to serve a burger as the last item. Taking that all into perspective, we had to take what we had on the menu already, and choose what would make the most sense from an execution standpoint. We’ve done dinners like this before, but it was more like a tasting of three appetizers on one plate. This was a specific five course tasting with wines. So we picked items from our current menu at Cinépolis, where it would coincide with the movie, but also make it executable for all of the locations that were participating.
Given that this event happened across multiple locations, what was the process behind the scenes with your team to get everyone on the same page and execute the event?
Once we figured out the menu, we looked at how long it takes to plate the portion, because we were doing smaller potions of our menu items. Then we looked at the movie’s timing; when the meals actually came out in the movie The Menu. We had to time it perfectly with that, so we had to break it down into realistic timeframes. At 7pm the movie starts and the general manager comes out to greet the guests. From that point, up until the last course, there were 15 to 22 minute intervals between each course. After the last course went out, it was kind of free rein for the dessert to get dropped, because at the end of the day, it’s a lot of food. We did three to four and a half ounce portions, but it’s still a lot of food once you get to that fifth course. We were also pairing bottles of wine and had bottle wine specials. People were loving it, eating, drinking, and enjoying the experience.
Is this the first time you’ve tried and F&B project on this scale? Do you feel like there are other films out there that would work well with this concept?
Yes. We’re very excited to do more of these in the future. We want to work with the studios and work with our marketing team to do this a few times a year, if not once or twice a quarter, depending on the releases. We got really, really great feedback. The guests loved it. Part of our plan for 2023 is to definitely do more of these. We put four on the books. We’re looking at what the movie releases are, we’re also trying to look at some of the classics that are coming out, because it doesn’t always have to be a blockbuster or new movie. It also doesn’t have to be a food driven movie to do something like this. Food is a big part of all movies. If you look deeply inside of most movies, there is food. It’s part of the process of creating realism in the movie. So I think that it’s going to be really easy for us, from a creative standpoint, to look at some of these movies that may be coming out, or our classic series, that we can pair these tastings with.
There are a lot of things that theaters do to enhance the moviegoing experience, but food really seems like an untapped area that’s ripe for creating an immersive experience.
I agree. We wanted to do this for a long time, we just didn’t have the opportunity. We’ve done this for our Cinépolis reward members in the past, so it’s not totally new to us, but we’re really excited to explore more of these next year.
What was some of the feedback that that you received from the audience?
I think the biggest feedback we’ve gotten was how exciting and exhilarating it was to be part of the movie. The movie is a thriller, so it’s an intense film. They felt like they were part of the movie and part of the action.
Are there things you learned this time around that you’ll take into the next one?
Even though we did really well, of course there’s always hiccups. I think that we’re going to do better planning out the food as far as the timing is concerned. The kitchen gets kind of backed up, as there’s not a lot of space when you’re doing 300 plates inside of an hour. It’s a lot, especially when you’re also doing regular service for the other theaters. The service was good, but the kitchen was the part that we learned the most from.
This is such a fun idea, I’m glad that it was a big success.
A super success. We’re so excited that people took to it. They can’t stop talking about it. That gives us some momentum to launch the new project for 2023.
When your local cinema is doing something special, that really instills loyalty and gets people excited to come back to the movies.
Yeah, that’s the key, getting people back to the movies and excited to come to the movies. That’s the direction we’re taking—how are we going to get people excited to come to our theater?
What do you hope audiences will take away from Movie and a Meal?
I want people to know that we hear you loud and clear. You’re looking for new experiences. Part of my job is to make the movies extra special when you come to our theater. We continue to develop and innovate, to make people excited about our food offerings. That’s the ultimate goal for us.