Cinema design takes a starring role at the movies

 —  Article by Natasha Stokes
modern cinema lobby
Image credit: Shutterstock

Whether it’s the latest Hollywood blockbuster or a modern indie classic in the making, there’s much more to a night at the movies than simply watching the stars on the big screen.

From leather reclining seats to chef-prepared meals, cinemas across Europe are prizing luxurious touches and convenience in their large-scale refurbishments to attract a new generation of movie-goers.

“When it comes to good cinema design, these days it’s all about the experience,” says Nick Currie, Director of Building Consultancy at JLL. “The film will always be the main aspect of the cinema experience, but enhancing the atmosphere around this experience is what cinemas are currently focusing on.”

Making movie-goers feel like stars

For guests, that experience begins as soon as they set foot in the cinema, with self-service ticketing machines for streamlined collection of tickets bought online and a well-stocked concession stand where the staples of popcorn or nachos are freshly made.

However, it’s inside the auditorium where cinema design has the most impact. “One of the most important aspects of cinema design today is the seating. We’re seeing the rollout of full-reclining seats, in leather fabric, at major cinemas across Europe,” Currie says. “The design is very luxurious and as not all cinemas feature these seats, there’s an exclusivity to it. Customers are driving past the nearest cinema to find those that have reclining seats.”

At the Odeon Panton Street in London, guests can kick back in reclining leather armchairs while some cinema chains feature VIP areas with wider seats and extended legroom.

It doesn’t just make for a more comfortable experience; such refurbishments make good economic sense. One major chain who are rolling out recliner seats across its European branches reported that while the size of each seat means there was a decrease of 50-60 percent in the number of seats per cinema, overall profits increased because the attendance per seat went up, Currie says.

A growing number of luxury cinemas also feature service extras such as in-seat food and drinks including freshly-made cocktails delivered from on-site kitchens and bars, making the experience feel more akin to business class travel.

“We are seeing more licensing for food and beverage options. It’s not just about getting consumers to spend more; it’s about creating a memorable experience that gets people coming back for more,” Currie says.

Take the Olympic Studios cinema in London, which features reclining seats in a soft wool as well as love seats, sofas and drinks tables. A downstairs restaurant serves dinner until midnight on weekends, while a members’ club upstairs ensures that the night continues after the film ends.

Movies in the age of streaming

In an age where movie fans also have the options of streaming services such as Netflix and digital downloads from stores such as Google Play or iTunes at their fingertips, cinemas need to continue to reinvent themselves to remain relevant to existing audiences and attract younger digital natives.

“While streaming services are not necessarily a direct competitor to cinemas, the popularity of these services does mean that the cinematic experience needs to change and differentiate,” Currie says.

Technical upgrades to the screen and audio are a crucial part of cinema design, with many refurbishments including the addition of giant-screen formats with laser projectors and high-definition sound – yet it’s the new design touches that are really adding value, says Currie.  “Enhancements to the sound and visuals help viewers feel even more engrossed in the film – but, as with 3D cinema, these technological advances haven’t always driven attendance. On the other hand, these new, more luxurious seats seem to be attracting a whole new level of guests,” he adds.

And while not every cinema can install reclining chairs and lay on waiter service, each can create vibrant spaces with high quality food and beverage options that encourage people of ages to turn a simple trip to the cinema into more of a social event.

As Currie concludes, “Good cinema design should encourage guests to make an afternoon or an evening out of seeing a film, from arriving early for a snack, to staying for a drink or two after the credits roll.”

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