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Advanced Ticketing at the Drive-In

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  • Advanced Ticketing at the Drive-In

    Any of you drive-in folks have any experience or advice for selling advanced tickets? We've never done it, but are considering it should things open back up but still wanting to maintain "careful" on person-to-person interactions. Mainly though, I'm thinking of the pros and cons of it for normal operating. All parking spaces available? Available until an hour until showtime? How to avoid people taking advantage of child pricing......

  • #2
    I have been playing with a service called OnTheStage. It is designed for the sale of tickets for live productions but I can be used for movie theaters as well.
    There is a 3% fee plus .75ยข per transaction fee that came come out of your end or paid by the customer. They want the fee on all sales even walk up but I only used it for pre-orders. It is not designed for your business but it might still work for you. They seemed to have a good customer service. I played around with it preparing to really kick off pre-sales for Mulan so I never got to see any sales from it.


    • #3
      Thanks Mark. Our current POS actually supports an app that seems like it would be fairly easy to integrate at $0.25 per transaction (not ticket) and no % as far as I know. That part should
      work fine, just wondering how people would receive it or even if they'd want to use it.


      • #4
        Do you charge by the person or by the carload? If the former, how do you handle someone who buys a ticket in advance for three people, but wants to add a fourth?

        How would you handle selling reserved parking spaces for advance tickets, but not at the box office? (Or do you plan to let people pick their preferred parking spaces at the box office, too?)

        As in, suppose someone reserves the third space in row 5 in advance. How would you prevent someone who buys a ticket at the box office from randomly parking in that space? I suppose that you could put cones or something else in the reserved spaces, but that would be quite a bit of extra labor. Also, you would want to have a separate entrance line just for advance ticket purchases; otherwise, there would be no significant advantage to the patron who buys a ticket in advance, but has to wait in the same line as those who need to buy tickets.

        I'm sure that some drive-in operator, somewhere has figured this out, but I've never seen it done in real life.


        • #5
          We have one night a week during July/August 7 night operation that we do carload, but otherwise per person. I've been playing around with the app, and when the person calls up their "ticket" for scanning, it also shows the quantity of each category. To add someone, I think we'd just have to ring another ticket for payment at the time. (This would take 2 car spaces with only 1 going in.) I would imagine people will use this to buy Youth tickets for their "very tall 11 year olds", but they do that anyway, we can only really try to call them out on it. We have the option to sell "General" seating, and I've only really found a couple drive-ins selling advanced tickets, but my idea would be to limit it to a quantity LOWER than total capacity (so we don't sell "CARS ONLY" spaces to people with vans/trucks) and possibly stop selling one hour before showtime so that we're not lined up but already sold out. Mainly, I'd like to try ways to limit cash handling if we're still under some concern for that. We never looked at this much, mainly because doing it seemed to add complication to a "first-come/first-served" model, however it seems like I'm able to work around most issues just fine, and it could actually save us time at the box office. I can't see how we get around having them wait in line though, need to think on that. The one issue I can think of is having people with paid tickets waiting in line at a point in time where we've "SOLD OUT" and we start to turn cars away. Some of the "paid" people will get it, and drive ahead, but others will turn away angry, thinking they can't get in. Have to think on that.


          • #6
            We've looked at this many times over the years. For our type of operation, it just doesn't pencil out.

            There are apps out there that will allow you to sell tickets under various scenarios. The capability is built-in on the RTS platform.

            Finding a way to sell the tickets isn't the problem. The roadblocks are verifying vehicle contents and keeping enough space open for them to park.

            One theatre used a concept where they charged for the car and driver, then added passengers. Another charges the same for each passenger, so for them, counting things up is easier (I don't know where they draw the line on infants). We did this when Star Wars released in December... even adding barcode readers to scan the ticket printouts. It was an interesting experience... but we never went back to it (barcode readers are in storage).

            We found that human nature dictates a person believes they've reserved a prime location in the field by buying in advance, especially if he purchased his ticket during the day. Somehow, we should have roped off a section for them when the tickets got sold. Those people tend to show up just before, or just after the show starts on a packed night. Naturally, they are VERY upset that we don't have dedicated lot attendants, just waiting for them to arrive. Others are bummed that you won't let them park in the good areas because they showed up like most everyone else does. And what makes a prime spot? It's wherever the individual customer thinks it is. You don't get to choose and it doesn't have to make sense. That's how a drive-in works... you should have expected that!

            Verifying vehicle contents takes almost as long as selling them the ticket when they arrive. Most of the time, they arrive with what they paid for. Often enough though, they bring "extras", for which you have to do a transaction anyway, or show up with fewer, for whom they want refunds. Because they have to haul out the card they used to buy the original tickets (they never have that ready), it takes up more time than it would if they just bought the tickets there in the first place.

            You could have an express line for pre-ticketed patrons only, but that would take up an extra cashier. Someone will always use that line and want to buy there. At that point, we don't have the ability to move people back to other lines without making them drive through the field and back around to the end of the line they should have been in. That takes personnel to monitor their trip through the property.

            About the only thing this brought to our table was a rough idea what attendance would be that evening... but that didn't offset the hassle.

            In the end, we found it was easier all-around to sell the tickets when they arrive and make it strictly first-come, first-served.

            That's just us though. Like everything else about this business, There are a lot of variables that work better for one than the other.

            BTW... for Scott: I don't personally know of any drive-in that still does carloads, especially not if they are running first-run shows. The studios won't book new content if you're giving it away, which is pretty much how they see it. I hear a couple of places have survived by running DVDs on a pro-sumer projector. That might be where you'd see a carload price, if those places are still around.
            Last edited by Jack Ondracek; 04-05-2020, 09:06 AM.


            • #7
              We have all been told that carload pricing is forbidden however there are a lot of drive ins doing carload every night. If it's not brought to the studios attention they adopt the don't ask don't tell. So doing advance ticket at carload pricing would be easy but what have you gained. Carload pricing is the fastest way to get thru a line and like Jack said if you do it in advance everyone wants the one certain spot and if its filled what do you do. Another problem with advance ticketing are they bringing a car,suv,truck etc and where do they park. In my view it's just more trouble then it's worth.


              • #8
                I've been playing with RTS app in test mode, when they open the ticket for us to scan, it does show you ALL tickets and categories for that show time. I pretty much echo all your concerns on it Jack, which is why we've never done it either, though I'm looking for ways to have less "customer to staff contact" if we are to re-open under some restrictions this summer. The only way I can think of avoiding the disappointed people is to cut off online sales an hour prior, before we'd be likely to be "sold out". I believe our tills would cut us off from selling once car capacity is reached. I would likely also limit online sales to below the available suv/truck spaces. It may not happen at all, it was more urgent when we were thinking we could be open while indoor theatres were not. It seems we won't be until people are comfortable with contact once again. Really on the fence though, because less contact and better hygiene is useful at the best of times. I also like trying stuff for something to do.

                On Carload nights, I guess it depends on the studios policy in the area. I'm not aware of any Canadian drive-ins who don't do it one night per week in summer season (also not aware of any who do it more than one night per week), but we report those tickets as such and they're all fully aware of it. We price ours at a full Adult x 2 admission, and that's still the majority on Carload nights.


                • #9
                  It would be interesting to have two lines coming into the theatre. Like the live shows where we have a "Will Call" and pre-sold ticket line and then the box office line for walk up sales.


                  • #10
                    That is interesting. Right now, we have a single booth with two windows. "Lane 2" we use to serve the passenger in the car, which is not a problem, very few single tickets sold at a drive-in. We have used it as a "cash only" lane on weekends, which is actually very helpful, people who'd rather not wait for the slower cash/debit/credit lane and can scrounge up the cash hustle on up and through. That's really interesting though, initially my thought was to take no cash at all, and do debit/credit/advance ticket at both. But it might be an incentive for people to use the advance sale option if they knew a dedicated lane was there for them, and the bonus is less contact with staff. Other option is a new booth in the "exit lane". It's all likely a moot point, I don't see us being open before the indoors are, and by then, people will be comfortable with the way we've done it before.


                    • #11
                      Interesting to read about carload pricing not being popular or permitted for first-run engagements. Is this a recent change? I haven't made it to a drive in in the last couple of years, but it was common in my experience. It was normally written something like "$X per car, up to 4 people; $Y for each additional passenger," if that makes a difference. I just assumed that the passenger limit was to prevent someone from, say, showing up with a school bus full of people and wanting to pay the carload price.


                      • #12
                        Scott, you bring up a good point about "school bus" pricing. Last I heard, those few in my circle that used do this, did have a limit of some kind.

                        I could see Dave's rationale of claiming "X" persons average per car. That would work unless a checker showed up; a practice that has dropped significantly in recent years.

                        Rick's observation about doing certain things until/unless noticed by the studios is not unusual, though I don't think any studios specifically allow the practice in their master contracts, not that I've seen anyway.. They're all still based on reporting per-capita, and there's no place in Comscore to note carloads.

                        I'm in a relatively hot economic area though, so deep discounting is neither necessary nor desirable, in my opinion. I tend to lean toward consistency. When I did have carload fields, some 30 years ago, the concept attracted a patronage I would diplomatically describe as "difficult". However, this is not a business where one drive-in is likely to fall into another's pattern, which is one of the positive things that offsets the challenges for many of us. "One size fits all" is definitely not us.

                        BTW... When we did try online ticketing, we programmed RTS to sell the car and driver as a single-priced unit, then set the system to add passengers as desired. That was the closest we could come to how it actually works at the ticket window. Again... validation was the problem, along with the other sundry issues. One disappointment was that we found out, belatedly, that the scanner guns I bought would not read smart phone screens, which a LOT of people brought instead of printing out the full-page receipt. Very few validated by handing us their card, which had to be the one the ticket was purchased with.
                        Last edited by Jack Ondracek; 04-12-2020, 09:18 PM.


                        • #13
                          We define it as "car, van or pickup truck" limited to seatbelts available. Very rare to see any more than 4 people, usually two of them will be kids so in that sense we still get "2 adult full price" out of it. That said, it's only about 8 Thursday nights in July and August when we run 7 days AND the studios here are fully aware of it, it's reported as "Carload" on our box office reports. Not sure how Rentrak deals with it. The RTS app currently shows the quantity of each age category sold as well as the QR code. I'm assuming this will only claim 1 "seat" as we are set to drive-in "one space per sale" mode. I'm quite in agreement, we don't go for the cheap crowd here, every drive-in in Canada as far as I've know has one carload night per week, some make it a "deal", I don't find that necessary, I try to make the deal being in bringing more than 2 people and hopefully buying more food. A lot of take-out food here at the moment is "cashless", so I'm still considering setting up the app in case we open this year under such a scenario.

                          As far as the "cashless" drive-thrus are going, it must be a mixed bag. Having spent the day Saturday at the drive-in painting restrooms and cleaning, we decided to roll through the DQ on the way home. Can't imagine it could have been done "dirtier". Debit Tap didn't work, had to hold on to the terminal, insert card and press the buttons, staff not wearing gloves, girl was fiddling with her hair and face (she didn't hand us the food). I made sure to slather on the sanitizer! Other funny thing was having basically not eaten restaurant food for a month, we blew our fast-food rules out of the water. Everyone got excited and ordered a ton. She asked me twice "will that be all"? No, no I said, we'll need more. I didn't realize 3 people could spend nearly $60 at a DQ by the time everyone gets a Blizzard, etc. *Note to Americans, the Canadian peso is only worth about 70 cents.