Is Naperville ready for another movie theater that serves alcohol?
That is a question that Naperville City Council members may have to answer on Tuesday when they pull the trigger on a possible Class B liquor licences at the AMC Naperville 16 movie theaters.
AMC wants to introduce one of its MacGuffin concept bars to Naperville 16 at 2815 Show Place Drive. The movie theater chain has MacGuffin at 63 locations throughout the country.
Adult moviegoers can order a cocktail, beer or glass of wine and bring it with them into their movie.
The traditional Class B liquor license requires establishments to have full kitchens and serve food along with liquor.
The Class B license is even more restrictive because additional covenants have been added to the ordinance.
The Hollywood Palms currently runs a bar that doesn’t require movie attendance. Drinks inside a movie auditorium are ordered from a server.
AMC requires move attendance for liquor service, but the only area where drinks can be purchased is at MacGuffins.
During the ordinance’s first reading on Jan. 21, Scott Stipsits, the director of food and beverage at AMC Theatres, explained that MacGuffins was an attempt to lure the adult moviegoer back to the theater.
“We’re seeing a declining attendance with competitive technologies in the industry,” Stipsits said. “We’ve seen positive results with this type of strategy across the country.”
The proposed ordinance for this particular liquor license carries a long list of restrictions and covenants, many suggested by AMC Theatres. Naperville liquor commissioners recommended AMC’s application for a local license 4-1 in December, after three go-arounds with the liquor commission.
Stipsits said that all employees, whether they work the popcorn machine or tend bar, are required to under the state-required BASSET (Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training) training for sellers and servers. Everyone will be carded at the bar, regardless of their age.
“We enforce a zero-tolerance policy,” the AMC executive said, describing MacGuffins as an adult concession stand. “If we have a bartender that doesn’t ask for an ID, they’re terminated after an internal investigation.”
AMC has other safeguards to ensure that underage movie guests aren’t ordering alcohol, such as different colored glasses for the bar and concession counter, extra ushers to monitor theaters, cameraed bar areas, and aggressive mystery shoppers at all AMC locations where liquor is served.
Drink prices are similar to stadium pricing. The ordinance states that the bar would open no earlier than 12 noon. Naperville 16 doesn't have any set times yet, but Stipsits said the bar wouldn't open until 4 or 5 p.m. on weekdays, and probably earlier on weekends.
Stipsits added that the bar would close 15-30 minutes after the last movie started. On weekends, the last movie showing begins around 12:30 a.m.
“My concern is how do you handle a 21-year-old guy and his 20-year-old girlfriend?” Councilman Steve Chirico asked. “How can you see if someone is buying and sharing a drink in a movie theater when’s dark? Seems like that would be easy to hide.”
Stipsits said it all came back to training, that team members were trained to spot such scenarios. He added that most adult guests don’t come out of their respective movies for refills.
“Your restrictions look significant, but I don’t know if they’re enough,” Chirico said. “I’m on the fence about this one.”
Councilman Judy Brodhead said the city hosted a number of events where alcohol was sold that drew age-diversified crowds.
“I think there are certainly possibilities of it not going well but I would also be willing to give it a try,” she said. “Let’s give it a shot but be willing to pull the plug if it doesn’t work.”
AMC reports that in 2008, it was cited for underage service in Massachusetts. The Naperville Police Department also contacted other Chicago suburbs where AMC has liquor licenses. All reported having no problems related to liquor service at AMC, according to information in the March 4 board packet.
In addition to AMC’s reassurances, council members will have to weigh the feelings of nearby residents from the South Homeowners of Wheatland.
Although the homeowners association said it’s not taking a position either way, 57 percent of 721 surveyed residents don’t favor the idea of AMC serving alcohol, with or without AMC’s self-imposed restrictions.