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updated: 6/8/2012 6:26 AM

Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton opens Friday

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  • Every leather chair at the new Studio Movie Grill is equipped with a tray and buzzer for personal service.

       Every leather chair at the new Studio Movie Grill is equipped with a tray and buzzer for personal service.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • General Manager John Elliott talks about the new Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton.

       General Manager John Elliott talks about the new Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Crews put the finishing touches on the Studio Movie Grill that opens Friday evening in Wheaton. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is slated for 5:30 p.m.

       Crews put the finishing touches on the Studio Movie Grill that opens Friday evening in Wheaton. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is slated for 5:30 p.m.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Forget the popcorn.

Fresh fruit, Thai salads -- even a selection of wines -- are some of the staples available to moviegoers at the new Studio Movie Grill opening Friday in Wheaton.

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Of course, you also can chow down on heartier options like burgers and pizza.

At a time when movie attendance is shrinking, "in-theater dining" is revamping the traditional moviegoing experience, trade experts say.

The Wheaton facility, which provides just that, marks the ninth location for Studio Movie Grill, a Dallas-based company founded in 2000 with theater locations in Texas, Georgia and Arizona. Another theater is expected to open this summer in Atlanta.

The eight-screen facility at 301 Rice Lake Square features fixed seats, each with a swivel table attached to an arm and a button that summons waiters to take orders from a menu offering more than 100 food and drink options, including cocktails.

And moviegoers can order anytime during a show.

"We really are a full-service restaurant," said Brian Schultz, Studio Movie Grill founder and president.

But what about clinking glasses and dishes in the midst of a screening?

"We've gone to extensive measures to make sure there's no distraction," Schultz said, pointing to staff members that are trained to serve food in a dark theater.

John Elliott, the theater's general manager, said meals with a refillable soda average about $12 per person. Ticket prices range from $5 to $9.75, excluding fees for 3-D viewings. Tickets reserve specific seats and are available at studiomoviegrill.com or at the box office inside the lobby, which also houses a lounge.

Studio Movie Grill has hired more than 200 people to run both the on-site kitchen and theater component, Elliott said.

To mark the opening, a ribbon-cutting ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday with Schultz and Wheaton Mayor Michael Gresk. A free movie ticket is available Friday by bringing a canned good or nonperishable food donation as part of the theater's "Cans Film Festival," benefiting the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Programs at the theater will showcase classics, chick flicks, indies and a monthly screening free for special-needs kids and their siblings, Elliott said.

Schultz said Studio Movie Grill typically serves adults and families and brings a neighborhood theater feel to Wheaton.

"It is growing in popularity," Schultz said of dine-in cinemas. "People are trying to jump on that bandwagon. We think it's the future. We think it's the best way to watch a movie with service, great food and beverages."

Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research at the National Association of Theatre Owners, estimates roughly 400 theaters offer food services.

Despite higher labor costs than a standard theater, Corcoran expects the number of dine-in cinemas to climb, with more of the larger chains rolling out more than the typical concession fare.

"There's always been this idea of dinner and a movie, and half of that revenue has been going down the street or across the mall or somewhere else," Corcoran said. "And this is a chance for theater owners to capture that revenue."

While dine-in cinemas allow theater owners to set themselves apart, Corcoran said the majority in the industry will likely not run what are essentially two businesses.

"I think the main business of movie theaters is going to remain movies," he said.

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