I've been a regular Cineworld customer for several years now, an Unlimited cardholder for about half of that time, and a shareholder for three years, but I'm beginning to lose all of that love for the chain. Why, I hear you ask? Two words: Allocated Seating.
There's never been any issue with seating at the Swindon site; most of the screens are big enough to accommodate everyone, and only the first night of big blockbuster shows such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings have ever needed allocated seating. So, why, when turning up to the Saturday, 12.30 showing of "The Fault In Our Stars", am I asked "Front, Middle or Back"? It's an unnecessary stream of red tape that I don't want to have to deal with, and it doesn't give me the opportunity to pick the seat three rows from the back, on the right hand side on the aisle, or K22 as it's better known. To get that level of granularity, you need to book online.
The benefit of being an Unlimited card holder is the impulse view, the ability to just "rock up" to the cinema, get a ticket and watch a film without the hassle of online booking. It seems that to achieve the comfort I'm used to, I'll need to carry my laptop and "Three dongle" around, just in case I have the urge to watch a film, probably sitting in the foyer booking the ticket before waltzing up to counter to collect it. It's positively absurd.
Having been to a number of cinemas around the world, some do have allocated seating and others don't - these are my experiences:
- Finland - The Finnkino chain have allocated seating, and their seats are much better than Cineworld's effort. The tills have a front facing LCD screen that shows you the auditorium layout and seat numbers; you simply say "row 8, seats 15 & 16 (or "rivi 8, paikkan 15 ja 16 if you speak Finnish)" and boom, you're sitting where you want.
- Canada - Cineplex in Vancouver were doing General Admission (sit where you like) at the two showings I saw. Seating was much the same as Cineworld, and I quite liked their "pre-show" interactive games.
- Spain - A local cinema just offered General Admission. Worked well, seating was a bit on the firm side though.
- Evesham - The Regal in Evesham offers allocated seating and you can select the seats you want. The love seats are very comfortable.
The point I'm making is that if you move away from General Admission to Allocated Seating, you have to give people a real choice where they sit; the "Front Centre or Rear" question just doesn't hit the mark and seems to underline the fact that the cinema is not in touch with its customer's needs. I also feel that Cineworld's silence on the matter is all the more irksome.
As a shareholder, I'm concerned by the move. As a customer, I'm hoping that they put the situation right ASAP. The Unlimited card is only good value if I enjoy the experience, and if I'm not enjoying the experience, why should I pay for the card?