One of the biggest trends in the exhibition industry happening now is the introduction of restaurant-quality food to the cinema experience. Many theatres have been doing it for awhile. Some are considering it – especially in the arthouse cinema market. One theatre, Gilson Café∼Cinema in Winsted, Connecticut, has been doing it for over 30 years! 30 years?! Off the top of my head I don’t know of another movie house that has had a longer run.
The Gilson Café∼Cinema won the Connecticut Magazine’s “2010 Best Dinner-and-a-Movie in Connecticut” award. Says owner Alan Nero, “My staff and I are very proud to be recognized among the many high-quality Connecticut establishments that Connecticut Magazine has uncovered. (We started) with the mission to provide Northwestern Connecticut with an affordable and unique evening out, and are very grateful to the thousands of customers who have supported us in the effort over the years.”
How do they do it? To begin with, there’s a smaller, more intimate theatre upstairs and another screen at ground level. Doors open about an hour before the movies begin. The guests order food off an extensive and affordable menu. When dinner ends, a second-run movie lights up the screen. With a full bar, drinks and desserts and served the rest of the evening.
Nero opened the café-cinema on October 28, 1986 receiving a lot of help from family and friends after much skepticism. The theatre had originally been an Art-Deco vaudeville showplace built in 1929. Its 744 seats were transformed into a cozy setting preserving the original stage, high-arched ceilings and nine vaudeville dressing rooms. The second screen was installed upstairs in 1994.
Like any new business, Nero struggled in his first year. Then he met Warren Gilson, a film industry pioneer. Gilson taught him how to operate his vintage carbon arc projectors. “He taught me (in one week) more about the mechanics of the movie business than I could have learned in years from any school.” Nero named the theatre after him.
Children 12 and up are invited on Sunday, then Tuesday through Thursday with a parent. Friday and Saturday nights are available to those 21 years of age and up.
Diamond Ticketing Systems, a pioneer in online print-at-home ticketing, installed its online engine, PrintTixUSA, and keeps The Gilson Café∼Cinema up-to-date. The guests go to the theatre’s home page, click on the link for ordering tickets and conduct the transaction while appearing to be on the Gilson website – even though they are buying their tickets through PrintTixUSA’s off-site server. Without the need for IT personnel and no annual licensing fees, it’s the most affordable system on the market.