TAMPA — The City Council gave initial approval Thursday for AMC Westshore Plaza 14 movie theaters to sell beer, wine and liquor along with popcorn, nachos and Milk Duds.
"The business has changed, and for us to remain relevant … we have to reinvest" in theater upgrades, AMC senior vice president George Patterson told the council before its unanimous vote of approval. Selling drinks, he said, "is an important part of the rebirth of our business."
AMC has 345 theaters with nearly 5,000 screens nationwide, annual attendance of 200 million and revenues of $2.6 billion a year. It believes its future growth will come from replacing 35 millimeter film with digital and 3-D projection, fixed seats with roomy recliners, and simple concession stands with expanded menus and alcohol.
To appeal to adults, AMC has opened bars called "MacGuffins" — yes, like the plot devices Alfred Hitchcock used to such great effect — in the lobbies of 74 of its theaters, including three in the Tampa Bay area: Regency 20 in Brandon, Veterans 24 in northwestern Hillsborough County and Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar. The bars are separate from the theater's concession stands.
More than 40 more MacGuffins are in the pipeline, according to the company. In addition to attracting adult patrons, the bars make theaters more versatile, allowing them to host corporate events or sell tickets to opera broadcasts.
"We're well aware of general concerns when it comes to alcohol," Patterson said. To prevent abuse and underage drinking, AMC says it sells to ticketed guests only, cards everyone, uses bartenders who are 21 or older, sticks to standard recipes for mixed drinks, serves alcohol in distinctive cups, requires employees to receive training for safe alcohol service, puts cameras in the bars and uses mystery shoppers to root out employees who do not follow company policy.
Typically, Patterson said, patrons buy only one drink. That's because once the movie starts, they tend not to leave their seats except to use the restroom.
But a Beach Park neighborhood activist raised concerns about the crowds of teenagers who go to the movies. Who, she asked, would be watching inside the theaters to make sure that drinks were not passed from adults to minors?
"That's where our main concern is," Margaret Vizzi said.
If the council gives AMC final approval on May 15 — a date picked to give the theater a chance to talk to Beach Park's neighborhood association about its plans — alcohol could be consumed only inside the theaters and lobby.
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or at Danielson@tampabay.com.