Movie Theaters Cut Seating Capacity Over Coronavirus

Dave McNary

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The AMC, Regal, Cineplex, Arclight and Alamo Drafthouse chains have imposed limits on sales as a safety precaution in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

AMC Theatres, which has 661 locations in North America, and Regal Entertainment Group, which has 564, both announced Friday that will be reducing their maximum capacity by at least 50% due to the outbreak. AMC said that the policy would go into effect on Saturday and last through April 30.

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“The health and safety of our customers and staff is very important to us,” Regal Cinemas said in a statement. “We are continuing to follow and monitor official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health organizations.”

Cineplex, which operates 165 locations, said it is reducing capacity in all 1,693 theatre auditoriums across Canada to allow for social distancing. “With reduced-capacity auditoriums, we are providing our guests with the choice to sit where they feel most comfortable and safe from social-distancing perspective,” the chain said.

AMC said all locations will enforce hourly cleanings of the following “high touch” surfaces: kiosks, counter tops, restroom areas, glass, handrails and doorknobs. AMC cleans every auditorium between every showtime.

“These are uncharted times in the United States. We are very closely monitoring the guidance of the CDC. We are complying with all directives from federal, state and local health and government authorities, and with our unilateral move to reduce capacity and increase social distancing we are going beyond what governments are requiring of us,” AMC’s president and CEO Adam Aron said in a statement.

Alamo Drafthouse is asking customers at its San Francisco location to ensure there’s an empty seat between their party and other customers in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statement that large gatherings are limited to 250 people. CEO Tim League said in a blog post that Alamo has deactivated sections of seats to cap the room capacity at 250 until further notice.

“Furthermore, we are requesting that all parties leave an empty seat between their group and other parties,” he said. “If you don’t have an empty seat, you can see a manager who can move you to one of the empty sections. This process is manual now but we are looking to automate it in the very near future.”

League also said that staff at all 41 Alamo locations have are sanitizing seat armrests, cup holders, and tables during theater cleanings before every show; gloves are being worn by all staff during theater cleanings and when bussing tables; every night the end-of-day cleaning team is disinfecting all hand-contact surfaces in guest-accessible areas (armrests, tables, door handles, counters, railings, benches, booths, faucets).

“In addition to nightly deep cleaning, our theaters are increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting all high-traffic areas throughout the day,” he added. “Door handles and box office counters are being disinfected at a cadence of every 30 minutes during business hours. “On that note, we’ve retrained our entire staff in thorough and frequent hand-washing – fronts, backs, wrists, between fingers – with soap and water for at least twenty seconds each time. Employees have also been instructed to never come to work if they experience fever or any Coronavirus symptoms.”

The chain is offering employees up to 14 days’ sick leave if they have to leave work for testing or if they contract the virus.

The California-based Arclight chain has also gone to a 50% capacity limit, according to President Ted Mundorff.

“This new policy is in compliance with updated guidelines from local, state and national health agencies,” he said. “We will be selling seats in every other row and ask that guests choose seats with adequate space between other parties. Our ticketing system has been updated accordingly and the closed rows will show as blocked/not available for sale. This seating limitation will ensure that we are under recommended occupancy guidelines.”

In the New York area, BAM Film in Brooklyn, FilmForum, IFCCenter, Metrograph and QuadCinema are using the 50% capacity guideline.

The 10-location Studio Movie Grill chained it will sell a maximum of 150 tickets in support of “natural social distancing” as well as offering its guests the ability to pick a different seat, if available, without changing their ticket.

Founder/CEO Brian Schultz said, “SMG is taking every precaution to keep our team and guests safe.  We have further elevated our stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols and added sanitizer stations. Now we need to take further action by reducing capacity in all our theaters to allow for recommended social distancing and to provide our guests the opportunity to select where they feel most comfortable to sit.”

The landmark TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood has announced it will cap ticket sales at 200 per show “so patrons can maintain comfortable social distance from each other.” It’s also promised more frequent deep cleanings.

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