The first Drive-In movie theater opened in 1933 and, at one time, there were over 4,000 operating in the US. Today, sadly, there are fewer than 300 Drive-Ins still open. However, the Johnny Rockets restaurant chain wants to change that. Johnny Rockets has announced plans to build up to 200 new Drive-In theaters, each with a Rockets drive-thru restaurant, by the year 2018. Along with the old-fashioned, 50s theme of the restaurant chain, which fits perfectly with the Drive-In image, plans are for ticket prices to be low and for customers to have food delivered to their cars.
It all sounds too good to be true. Here are my concerns: First of all, will the head honchos at Johnny Rockets know how to efficiently run Drive-In Movie Theaters? Most of the theaters in operation today are family owned and run by people who have been doing it for 50 years! I happen to have some inside knowledge of the business and, trust me, there are unique challenges to pulling-off a successful Drive-In.
This is also going to be a very costly experiment. For Johnny Rockets, which right now only has about 300 restaurants in the world, to not only drastically expand it’ food business, but add 200 outdoor movie theaters – which means buying 200 large plots of land, construct screens, purchase state-of-the-art digital projection systems, etc. – just seems like too much. And, according to the company, these will be all-new theaters, not renovations of old, abandoned Drive-Ins. Wow!
And there are always the obvious climate-related issues to consider. Where I live Drive-Ins are only open from April-Sept. Will Rockets attempt to battle the northeast weather and stay open year-round (and be prepared to shut-down on rainy summer nights) or will they only build these new theaters in the south and west (and just hope it never rains)? There are so many questions.
My prediction: This plan, as it’s designed right now, isn’t going to work. And I truly hope I’m wrong. I am one of the world’s biggest supporters and fans of Drive-In movie theaters. But there are just too many things here that can go wrong. Hopefully they’ll cut back and open, maybe, 10 over the next 5 years, and see how it goes. I believe the family audience is out there to support the concept – if the locations are right.
But if I was sitting in for Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank”, and was pitched this as a business investment, I’d have to say: “For those reasons, I’m out.”