When Humphrey Bogart proposes a toast to Ingrid Bergman with “Here’s looking at you, kid” during a screening of “Casablanca” at a New York movie theater, he no longer will have to do it alone if a proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo finds enough support in Albany.
Cuomo wants to expand the licensing of movie theaters to serve alcoholic beverages as part of an effort to help the craft beverage industry and movie exhibitors and attract new investments in beverage manufacturing in New York.
Cuomo said the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) law needs modernization including reforming Prohibition-era regulations that prohibit relationships between alcohol manufacturers/wholesalers and retailers. Cuomo also wants a new license created to make it easier for institutions of higher education to train students to go into the craft beverage industry. Currently, licensing an educational institution for manufacturing alcoholic beverages, necessary to teach students how to do it, is complicated and time-consuming.
Cuomo said his plan “will remove Prohibition-era rules that hamper private-sector investment, ensure we’re training the next generation of workers in a critical industry and give more New Yorkers the opportunity to responsibly enjoy a drink at the movies.”
Cuomo’s proposal would allow the sale of beer, wine, cider, mead and spirits at movie theaters. Currently, only theaters that have full kitchens and are equipped with tables inside the auditoriums can get a license to serve alcohol to their customers. Cuomo is proposing that adults going to see movies with ratings of PG-13 or higher could buy alcoholic beverages. They could only be sold one drink at a time.
Joe Masher, CEO of Bow Tie Cinemas which has offices in Ridgefield, Connecticut, as well as Times Square in New York City, told the Business Journal that he was pleased by Cuomo’s proposal. Masher has been urging an updating of the law both in his capacity with Bow Tie and as president of the National Association of Theater Owners of New York State (NATO). Bow Tie operates theaters in Bronxville, Greenburgh and Mount Kisco in Westchester. The chain has about 400 screens in approximately 50 locations in several states.
“We have fought long and hard for movie theaters without full kitchens and permanent tables at every seat to have the ability to apply for a liquor license with the State Liquor Authority,” Masher said. “Theater chains (that) sell alcohol in other states have an impeccable record of safety and staff training for responsible service.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, from 2015 through 2017, 32 states relaxed their laws governing the sale of alcoholic beverages in movie theaters. Masher said the number has grown to 36 states. Alcohol sales and expanding the variety of foods offered at concession stands has helped with concession revenues while theater operators deal with upgrade and maintenance costs of digital projection and competition from other entertainment offerings such as internet streaming services and home theaters.
“Theaters have always had a fight to survive over the years. First it was television that was threatening the life of movie theaters. Then it was cable television. Then the home video and then streaming,” Masher said. “ Our attendance is good as long as the product is good but unfortunately the way that the economics work is that most of the ticket price goes to the studio. Theaters, in order to survive, have to raise money in other ways, from concessions, screen advertising and so forth.”
Masher said that while contracts with studios for the films shown vary, it’s not unusual for studios to take 90% of ticket sales on hit pictures.
“Any incremental revenue that we can generate over the concession stand is very, very helpful to the operation of the business as compared with raising ticket prices. It’s better to offer an amenity that people actually want than to have people suffer through another price increase,” he said.
Masher said Bow Tie is experienced with alcohol sales in its theaters, including some in Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia. Masher said it has tavern licenses at some theaters in upstate New York but guests there can’t take drinks out of the lobby.