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Drive-In Theater Business Idea

If you love old movies and all things retro, you might be interested in learning how to start a drive in theater. Nothing screams Americana like an old-fashioned, drive-in movie theater.

Basic operations include selecting and showing movies, advertising shows, and collecting ticket fees as customers arrive. You will also be responsible for maintaining the drive-in lot, the viewing screen, and the projection and sound equipment.

If you’re planning on opening a snack bar, there are many tasks related to running a restaurant as well.

How To Start A Drive-In Theater

Before you start a drive in theater, decide on a location. The property should be conveniently located and large enough for a few hundred cars, but should be as far away from residential areas as possible.

Once you’ve decided on a location, you’ll need to prepare the area, erect a large viewing screen, and build a snack bar and bathrooms. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find a vacant drive-in movie theater that can be remodeled.

You’ll also need projection equipment and a sound system. Most new drive-in theater operations use a sound system that can be received over a standard car stereo eliminating the need for equipment at each parking space.

What You’ll Need To Get Started

In order to start a drive in theater, you should learn how to operate the audio and video equipment. You’ll also need a Public Performance License that will allow you to legally show copyrighted material in a public venue.

If you decide that you will specialize in older movies, licensing and copyright fees shouldn’t be a big problem. However, acquiring the right to show first-run movies can be quite a task and fees can be substantial.

To find help with licensing and other issues, join the National Association of Theatre Owners. Make sure that you comply with all local noise and light ordinances.

To operate a successful drive-in movie theater, it will be important to select movies that will draw a crowd. While everyone has their favorite type of films, a movie theater owner may have to set aside their own likes and dislikes in order to satisfy their customers.

To draw a varied crowd, it might be a good idea to have a family movie night on Friday evening and teen movies on Saturday night. Many movie theaters make more money on their soft drinks and popcorn than on the movie tickets. Make sure that you control operational waste and other expenses related to the restaurant operation to maximize your profits.

Drawing A Crowd

After you start a drive in theater, it will be time to find customers. In this day and age, opening a drive-in theater is worthy of news coverage. Take advantage of this by inviting reporters from the local TV stations to cover your operation from the time you start clearing the site.

Send a second invitation before you’re ready to screen the first film. Make sure that the local radio stations are also aware of opening day. Advertisements should include some grand opening discounts and special attractions to generate interest.

Many people will intend to come to the drive-in once it’s open, but never actually make it. A special attraction like an antique car show may be the deciding factor. For families, make sure that you have activities to keep the kids busy during the long, summer twilight hours before the movie can start. At a minimum, some safe playground equipment would be a good choice.

When you’re ready to expand your drive-in theater business, you may want to open another theater in a different town. You could start an indoor theater so that you have a year-round movie business.

Some drive-in theaters run flea markets on their premises during the day for extra income. With plenty of parking and walking space, you could also operate food festivals or concerts on the same grounds that are used for movie screenings.

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