Dine-in theatres have always gotten a bad rep because the first experience usually doesn't go so well for people. But if you know what to look out for, combining your dinner and a movie can be a big time (and calorie) saver.

Here are some tips and tricks I've learned over the years on how to best survive at a dine-in theatre.

1. Find the right theatre for you.

wine, beer
Claudia Karademas

The first dine-in theatre that I tried was a total disaster. The food was terrible, the service was poor, and I decided I was never going to try one again. But eventually, I got sick and tired of driving 40 minutes to my preferred theatre which was near all my friends and tried out Fox Bay.

It was smack dab in the middle between school and home—10 minutes away from each. Once I tried it, it became my favourite place to go catch a film. You have to try out different dine-in theatres just like you have to try out different restaurants. 

2. Show up early.

Empty Theatre (almost)

Jaako on Flickr


It's a bit hard to read the menu when the theatre has already gone dark and the previews are playing. It's also a bit awkward to try and order over the sound of the movie. If you show up before the previews start (which they won't until the time the movie is supposed to start, unlike most theatres), then you can read the menu and order without any difficulties.

This tip is especially important if the theatre doesn't have reserved seating. Getting a good spot is crucial to having a good time. 

3. Don't go on opening day. 

TVFestival crowd

@boetter on Flickr

Yes, going to the movies on opening day—especially midnight showings—is a blast, but crowds at a dine-in theatre simply ruin the experience. There isn't much room, the waiters are out for pretty much the whole time because somebody always needs something, and the food ends up being terrible.

Since all the food has to come out at once, the chefs are very rushed and cannot make food to the usual quality. If you plan on going to a movie on the first day it comes out, go anywhere but a dine-in theatre.

4. If it's your first time, order something simple.

hash, sweet, herb, bread, cake
Angela Pizzimenti

Don't expect five-star quality restaurant food when going to a dine-in theatre. More likely, it will be pub & grill style. If you're trying out a theatre for the first time, I recommend trying something that's hard to get wrong. My go-to is always chicken tenders and fries. Once you've decided that you like a certain dine-in theatre and they provide decent quality food, you can branch out a little more. 

5. Don't feel required to eat anything.

popcorn, corn, milk, cereal, sweet, kettle corn, salt
Renee Chiu

If your friends invite you out to a dine-in theatre and you don't feel so sure about the food, you're not required to eat anything. You can save some money and have dinner at home before or after instead. If you're not in the mood for cooking. Popcorn is a great light snack to have while your friends have their meals. 

6. Don't share your food.


bengrey on Flickr

You're going to have to unlearn everything that you were taught in kindergarten. When I go to a new restaurant, often my friends and I will all order something different and then try a bit of everyone's. This doesn't work so well at dine-in movie theatres.

You're not supposed to talk during the movie and it's easy to knock things over in the dark. I've had my food spilled all over me more than once. 

7. Be careful with where you put your drink and food.

A photo posted by Martha Ray (@martharay7719) on

I try to set my drinks as far away as possible. Once a friend tried to steal a fry and knocked over my soda because it was dark. I've learned since then. This applies to food as well—nothing should be anywhere near the edge. 

8. If they mess up your order, just leave it be.


zoetnet on Flickr

My order isn't incorrect often, which is a miracle because I'm one of those annoying people who asks for almost everything removed from a lot of dishes. But if something about your order is incorrect, it's better to just settle for what you got at dine-in theatres.

It's dark, so it's difficult to call the waiter over and it's hard to discuss what went wrong when you're supposed to be quiet so that everyone else can watch the movie.

9. Bring extra money.


free pictures of money on Flickr

You're not just paying for a movie anymore, dinner is included too. Once a friend that I brought along didn't think of this, and I hadn't brought extra money to cover her. We ended up having to call someone to bring us extra cash. It was super embarrassing and a total nightmare. Bring more than you need just in case. 

10. Wait until the end of the movie to pay.

Full theater

Wikimania2009 on Flickr

I'm used to paying as soon as the check comes after my food and hurrying out to continue my busy day, as most Americans do. But at dine-in theatres, trying to pay as soon as the check comes is a disaster.

It's completely dark so you can't read your bill or sign for a tip without a flashlight, which distracts others. To top that off, you miss some of the movie while trying to calculate how much to tip. You're there until the end anyways, if it's a decent movie, so just be patient and wait until the end.  In case you don't like the movie and want to leave as soon as the check comes, take your credit card out beforehand. 

11. Tip, Tip, Tip.


chefranden on Flickr

Whenever I bring friends to a dine-in theatre, they ask if they should tip. Of course you should. The staff at the theatre wait on you just like at a normal restaurant, so tip as you would at one. I recommend 20 percent, especially since it's so much harder to serve in the dark.  

12. Find a movie you're pretty sure you'll enjoy.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

Nivrae on Flickr

Because it's a dine-in theatre and you don't pay until near the end, you can't leave early, no matter how terrible the movie is. So, if it's a movie you want to check out but you aren't sure you'll enjoy, go to a regular theatre, not a dine-in one. Not everyone is willing to walk out of an awful movie, but if you are, make sure you keep this in mind. 

Now that I'm a frequent customer, dine-in theatres have become one of my favourite places to spend a night out with friends. With these tips, the experience will be amazing for you and your friends, too.