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Want to order movie-theater snacks in advance? There's an app for that

Long lines at the movie theater concession stand may be tapped out, if the expansion of new online services prove successful.

AMC Theatres / AMC Theatres
In an effort to combat long lines, phone apps are allowing movie audiences to order concessions in advance and pick them up upon arrival.

Two national theater chains, AMC Theatres and Regal Entertainment, have been experimenting with online pilot programs that allow movie audiences to order concessions in advance. As The New York Times noted Sunday, AMC's service is being tested in four theaters in the Kansas City market, while Regal has partnered with an app called Atom to explore the concept in Knoxville, Tennessee.

On Monday, George Patterson, a senior vice president for AMC Theatres' food and beverage department, and Michael Purcell, a vice president of the same branch, discussed its version of the program with TODAY.com.

AMC Theatres
AMC is implementing phone apps that allow movie audiences to order snacks in advance.

"It starts with the fact that we want to be the leader when it comes to the guest and their experience," said Patterson, who noted that reclining chairs, reserved seating and self-serve soda fountains with extensive beverage choices have been among the most popular recent upgrades. "How do we make it even better? We thought, 'What are the barriers [preventing] people [from] purchasing more when coming to the stand, or coming to the stand at all? And the No. 1 barrier was the lines. Fast forward, and we began to think about what we can do to bring mobile [access] to life in our theaters."

Purcell agreed, asserting that the plan is to create a program so that "it's convenient, it's easy, and it operates in a way that it exceeds people's expectations." He added, "That's a big challenge for us as we work at these four locations. Our goal is to get it tight [enough] so we can commercialize it and roll it out [to a larger audience] early next year."

AMC Theatres
Four theaters in the Midwest tested AMC's pilot program for an app that allows audiences to order movie-theater food in advance, according to The New York Times.

Not long ago, when an IT specialist for AMC Theatres told Patterson that technology relating to movie-theater seat reservations soon would be conducive to concessions as well, that idea began to take shape.

"Once you start down this pathway, what you learn spawns many other opportunities for us," he added. "If this is a 100-mile journey, we're probably at mile marker No. 1."

AMC Theatres
Apps that allow audiences to order food in advance are one of many initiatives theater chains are implementing in an effort to improve the overall theatrical experience.

That mobile concession service is available for the four Kansas City-area theaters via AMC's website, but not yet on AMC Theatre's app. It may be among the app upgrades planned for the next few months, added Ryan Noonan, a spokesman for that theater chain.

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Potential expansion to one or more additional markets could take place as early as next month, with additional assessments slated for March or April, according to Patterson. If it's working, it could mean even more venues nationwide and a boost in profits by the time the time summer blockbusters roll around.

Atom
The app Atom helps movie audiences not only order food in advance, but also coordinate ticket payment and screenings for groups that want to see films together.

AMC's increased online presence already has competition in Regal and its affiliated app called Atom, which not only allows users to buy concessions in advance, but also helps groups coordinate screening times and pay for tickets.

Five Regal cinemas in the Knoxville, Tennessee, market have implemented the program so far, according to The New York Times and Knoxville News Sentinel. "At Regal we are always looking to provide our guests new options that make the moviegoing experience more convenient," Regal spokeswoman Sandra Heinig said in a statement secured by the News Sentinel last month.

A spokesman for Atom declined additional comment, stating to TODAY.com via email that there was nothing "new to announce or share at this time."

With regard to advance concessions, surge pricing with increased demand — not unlike what happens for transportation apps like Uber or Lyft during rush hours or bad weather — may be in play for Atom, according to the Times. AMC Theatres, as of Monday, didn't anticipate following that trend, Noonan told TODAY.com on Monday.

Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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