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‘Forked’ Over by AMC Theatres

Bad Words movie poster

Bad Words. Great movie, I also used a few of these when my family was denied entry by AMC due to my son being under 21.

It’s nice to be able to reserve a seat for a movie theater and I’m willing to pay a premium for it. In particular, I like the fork and dine theaters. Table service is a good convenience, and the food I’ve had has been as good as your standard high end bar chain.

So, when I went online on a Sunday afternoon and booked 3 tickets for my wife’s birthday I didn’t realize it was us who was going to get ‘forked’ and the experience was almost going to spoil the whole birthday.

We got to the Menlo Park theatre and went right to the check-in station, bypassing the kiosk and the counter – so far so good. Then, we were stopped in our tracks. My 17 year old son was not allowed to go into the Cinema Suites. What the hell are the Cinema Suites suites? Well, apparently they are a 21 and up experience for adults only. I asked to see the manager. He showed up. A young kid, unfailingly polite.

“Where was it disclosed on the website that this was a 21 and up environment?” I asked.  “Where was the checkbox to indicate everyone needed to be 21 to get in?”

“We’ve had problems with Fandango,” he said. “They don’t clearly disclose it on the site.”

“Ok,” I said, “Given the circumstances, can you make it an exception this one time?”

It was a Sunday afternoon, and my bookish 17 year old was not going to be screaming in the theater.

“It’s my wife’s birthday.”

“Sorry, I can’t make an exception,” he said.

“Can I speak with you boss,” I asked.  “Who’s the top person I can speak with?”

“All the other managers are like me,” he said, “you’ll get the same answer.”

At this point my wife was in tears. It had not been an easy weekend. Then I lost it a bit, which I’m not proud of. “I’ll sic the Internet on you as much as I can, and I want a refund.”

He disappeared for a long time and eventually came back with a refund for me to sign. Then I asked for contact info for the owner of the theater. He was gone an even longer time but came back with a card.

We salvaged the experience by taking our business to another movie theatre 20 minutes away and a show 45 minutes later, but it still sucked.

So, AMC, let me use this opportunity to teach you some principles of good user experience from someone who does it for a living.

When you elect to purchase tickets on the AMC website, you select the movie and you are shot over to Fandango where you pick the quantity. In tiny type on the right sidebar under your movie are some specific details. That seems important, so why isn’t it bigger? “Auditorium 12” is big. That’s something completely unimportant that hold be printed on a ticket, but isn’t needed here. If there’s age restriction, you want to call it out with big emphasis.The whole area should be customized to the movie. And why is it all crammed on the right side? There’s a lot of extra space by the ticket selection.

AMC Ticket Selection

AMC Complete PurchaseWhen you take the next step to purchase you are given no additional information. That’s a deeply flawed approach. AMC should not want to turn away loyal customers, piss them off, and have to refunded their money like they did with me. The theater I was in has only 63 seats. So, by losing 3 customers they lost about 5% of the potential revenue of that showing. Stupid. The same design flaws are on that purchase page, but what it really needs is a confirmation letting guests know that can’t get in if they’re not 21!

Though I had been to the Fork and Dine theaters many times with my teenagers, I was unaware of the Cinema Suites existence and any age restrictions beyond the movie designations themselves – like an ‘R’ rating. Any why was that? Well, maybe it was because two weeks earlier at the same theater I saw an 8 o’clock ‘R’ movie that featured a crying child in the audience that had to be taken out a couple of times to quiet him down. I was tolerant and didn’t complain. But there it is in the age restrictions on the site – no kids under 6 after six. So, clearly the rules aren’t always enforced!

AMC Age Policy

AMC, you let in a crying child violating your own age restrictions on a weekend night, but you won’t let in my well-behaved 17 year old in the middle of a Sunday afternoon? How about a couple of free tickets for the inconvenience and annoyance?

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3 comments… add one

  • nick

    well said Mark, very frustrating
    we call them ‘jobsworths’ here in the UK because the answer is ‘I can’t make an exception, it’s more than my job’s worth’

  • Thanks Nick, maybe ‘jobsworths’ will make it across the pond. :)

  • Christina

    We had a similar experience this weekend, except my daughter is 19 and a Legal Adult! Ready for the kicker? My husband and I went to the same movie, same theater, the night before -in Cinema Suites- and who was next two us? Two teenage boys with their parents! The manager at our AMC told me that their staff is trained to look for “anyone who looks younger than 25″, and ask for ID. My response: so let me get this straight. Your waiters and waitresses -who all appear to be 16 years old- can serve in this theater and in fact make a determination on who THEY think looks 25 or older. But, because my 19 year old daughter looks 12 (she really does), she can’t come in. So maybe we should have bought her a wig and stilletos. My point is, the policy is not evenly applied. And it still kills me that 16 year olds are working in Cinema Suites (so there isn’t an age restriction where AMC wants to get by paying minimum wage!). I digress.

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