Movie theaters in Denton start reopening Friday, with new rules and procedures in place to keep patrons from sharing an armrest.

Cinemark 14, a cinema located in the south part of Denton, is the first to reopen on Friday. Alamo Drafthouse Denton, located in Rayzor Ranch, reopens Aug. 25 and Denton Movie Tavern reopens Aug. 28.

Officials at Denton Movie Tavern didn’t return calls by Thursday evening.

Cinemark staffers spent the days leading up to the reopening preparing for customers, spokeswoman Caitlin Piper said. The theater chain will screen Unhinged and the 10th anniversary re-release of Inception. Releases continue with The New Mutants and The Personal History of David Copperfield on Aug. 28, and the much-anticipated Tenet by Christopher Nolan on Sept. 3, with early access screenings beginning Aug. 31.

All Cinemark venues will stagger showtimes to maximize physical distancing, and the online ticketing system will automatically block seats adjacent to a party upon purchase.

Cinemark patrons will have to wear masks in the theaters, but can remove them to eat and drink. The chain is paying close attention to the ventilation systems, raising the fresh air rate in its HVAC systems and constantly using supply fans to increase total volume of fresh, outside air flowing into theaters. Staffers use vacuums equipped with filters designed to trap microscopic particles, including COVID-19.

Bill DiGaetano, CEO of Alamo Drafthouse DFW, said the North Texas drafthouse cinemas are trying to keep the lobbies even less crowded than usual. Alamo locations are known for convenient online seat selection and reservations that allow guests to get to their screening rooms quickly. Now, DiGaetano said, the online ticket portal will automatically reserve adjacent seats.

“We have reclining seats in our theaters, and when you buy a ticket and you select a seat, the system will reserve two seats on either side of you,” he said. “It will let people sit together, though, and block out the two seats next to you.”

DiGaetano said cinema chain executives have read the data. They know that, while people are ready to resume the activities that entertained them before COVID-19, a lot of guests feel grocery stores haven’t managed new procedures easily.

“One of the things we’re using as a benchmark is to make everything more controlled than how it is maybe at a supermarket,” DiGaetano said. “We know you’ve been coming to the supermarket, but we want to take it a step further.”

If the Drafthouse bar and restaurant area get too crowded, guests will be asked to wait in their cars. Cinemark officials will also keep tabs on the number of guest in their lobbies.

Alamo guests will have to order their food online. A staffer will notice when guests are seated, and will check for concession orders and then ask guests if they want the kitchen to start cooking their food. Just about everything will be given to guests in to-go containers, but DiGaetano said popcorn will likely come in the typical tin bowls but covered in plastic wrap.

Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse will disinfect high-touch areas regularly, including seats, rails, doors and Alamo’s dining tables. Both chains will reduce capacity, and Alamo Drafthouse has reduced its staff.

Alamo staffers have a new disinfecting device, a backpack that allows them to clean seats and other parts of the theater. Alamo is known for its creativity, and DiGaetano said the chain is considering putting staffers who will use the backpacks in Ghostbusters costumes.

“Alamo usually has 110 house staff on during business hours, but we’re talking 30 to 40 people when we reopen. We want to make sure our staff can get more hours, and with reduced capacity, we want them to get as much as they can in tips. At this point, we don’t know if we’ll have enough guests to cover the expenses we have, but we’re really focusing on delivering an excellent experience for our guests even in this situation. We’ll just have to see,” DiGaetano said.

Cinemark is eliminating paper tickets, and both cinemas are urging contactless payment. Cinemark won’t accept cash at the concession stand, though a designated area will be available for cash transactions and gift card purchases.

“We’re really looking at the CDC guidelines and local and state guidelines,” DiGaetano said. “We’re looking at all that and taking it a step further, because we know these are anxious times.”

DiGaetano said Alamo Drafthouse is also planning private rentals for small groups who want to catch a movie, but are wary of sharing the theater with strangers.

“We will ask people to social distance — we won’t be in that theater with them unless they want food or drink. We want them to respect the rules,” DiGaetano said.

“I think it will take time for consumer confidence to get back to where it was,” he added. “I don’t see in the near future consumers wanting to sit next to a stranger.”

The theaters reopen just in time to welcome this year’s newest film, Unhinged, and the 10th anniversary re-release of Inception. Releases continue with The New Mutants and The Personal History of David Copperfield on Aug. 28, and the much-anticipated Tenet by Christopher Nolan on Sept. 3, with early access screenings beginning Aug. 31.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

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