The Gallery: what’s the point?

No, not the Tony Hart montage of paintings by children. The Gallery at the Odeon. What’s the point of it?

For the uninitiated, the Gallery is supposed to be the best cinema-going experience possible. First of all, you get to relax in a kind of lounge-bar before the movie. You can buy alcoholic drinks; alternatively you can have unlimited soft drinks or coffee. In addition, you can have as much popcorn, nachos and Quality Street as you like. Once you’re done in the bar, you get to watch the movie in dedicated Gallery seats, which are wide, comfy, leather chairs with their own little armrests for food and drink. You can also reserve the seats in advance to ensure you get to sit where you want.

All of this costs £18, which is £10.50 more than the price of a standard adult evening ticket.

Now, this was quite a nice idea when UCI filmworks did it and before Odeon took over. It was quite a nice “make a night of it” plan to buy Gallery tickets, spend an hour or so in the Gallery bar chatting, then watch the movie. But there have been changes by Odeon that mean I don’t think it’s worth the cash any more. Let’s weigh things up.

The Bar

On the face of it, a nice idea. You get to order drinks – well, everyone else gets to order drinks but I’m usually the designated driver – and relax before the performance.

Problem 1 is that there’s a bar downstairs as well; that means you’re ponying up the extra cash purely so that you can take the drinks into the film and to avoid the noise in the downstairs bar. True, you can leave the movie, go back into the Gallery bar and order more drinks, but it’s not like the movie comes with a pause button. You leave for five minutes, you miss five minutes of movie. Of course, if you could get a member of staff to get it for you, that would actually make the Gallery worth going to, but given staffing levels in the Gallery, I don’t see that happening.

Problem 2 is the bar staff. They don’t actually seem old enough to be serving alcohol half the time, and if they are old enough, they’ve definitely not had enough time to build up drinking experience. Case in point, the following real-life Gallery dialogues I’ve had with bar staff.

Dialogue 1

Me: “Can I set up a tab?”

Staff: “What’s that?”

Me: “It’s where I give you a credit card, you keep it behind the bar and only after we’ve finished buying our drinks do we pay. That way, we don’t have to pay after every round, only at the end.”

Staff: “Oh… That’ll be £5.60, please.”

Dialogue 2

Me: “Can I have a large glass of Pinot Grigio, please?”

Staff: “Do you want that cold?”

It’s not exactly Cheers, is it? Not a totally scarring set of experiences mind, so let’s not complain about them too much. I’ll live. But since they’re also the staff that have to police the Gallery seating and since they spend most of their time in the bar instead, that means there’s no one policing the seating – more on that later.

There’s one further fly in the Gallery bar ointment. Back in the days of UCI ownership, you could spend an hour or two in the Gallery bar before the film started. Under Odeon management at the Greenwich Peninsula, the time you can spend is now just half an hour. You won’t find this out until you’re actually about to go upstairs to the Gallery though: there’s nothing on the web site, nothing on the poster outside, nothing in the booking area. Was I sold tickets under false pretences? One for the lawyers, I guess.

So an hour beforehand

Dialogue 3 (time now: 8.15pm; time of movie: 9.15pm)

Staff: “Sorry, you can only go in half an hour before.”

Sarah (my wife): “Is that new? We always used to be able to go in earlier than that.”

Staff: “No it’s been like that for a long time now.”

No it hasn’t, Mr Staff. But still. Our local filmworks is Greenwich Peninsula and frankly, there’s not a lot on the Peninsuala to do of an evening, unless you fancy some late-night shopping in B&Q or Comet. There’s even less to do at 8.15pm. We could have gone to the downstairs bar, but we didn’t feel like giving Odeon any more of our money at that point. So 25 minutes later, after walking to Sainsbury’s and back to buy Ginsters pasties.

Dialogue 4 (time now: 8.40pm; time of movie: 9.15pm)

Me: “Can we go in now?”

Staff: “Can you give it five minutes, mate?”

Five minutes of perusing the DVD and book racks later

Dialogue 5 (time now: 8.45pm; time of movie: 9.15pm)

Me: “Can we go in now?”

Staff (glancing at watch and after much deliberation and studying of tickets): “Yes. Have you been to the Gallery before?”

Imagine going out for the night: would you pick a bar that you could only spend half an hour in, particularly when there’s one next door (or downstairs in this case) that’ll let you in whenever? Me neither.

Of course, for all I know, you might be able to go in after the showing – I haven’t tried – but if the film starts at 9pm, it’ll finish after last orders so you don’t get that opportunity, no matter what.

Is the upstairs bar worth the premium then? Not really.

Free food

Stick some free food in front of me and I’ll eat it. To the dismay of everyone concerned, on Saturday when I was in the Gallery, because there was free nachos, popcorn and chocolate, I ate nachos, popcorn and chocolate – but in parallel, rather than sequentially. I’m not a proud man. It’s food. It’s free. Nuff said.

The important point is that if it weren’t free, I wouldn’t eat it. At most, I’ll order popcorn or a hotdog when I have regular seats, and most people I go to the cinema with do more or less the same.

Similarly, I’ll get through a couple of glasses of coke at most, rather than just lie under the dispenser and drink till I explode, so it’s not like I need neverending soft drinks over a half-hour period. There are very few people who go to the Gallery who have both soft drinks and alcohol, so they often don’t get the benefit of that particular perk. Importantly as well, unlike the nachos served downstairs, most trays of the Gallery nachos just sit there slowly getting harder to eat, so they’re actually not as good.

So is it worth paying a premium just to have the chance to eat food I wouldn’t normally bother eating? Not really.

Comfy chairs (resist the Python urges, people)

Ah, here comes the real supposed selling point. Comfy chairs. Now, don’t get me wrong. They are comfy. But

  1. Doesn’t that reflect badly on the existing chairs? It’s kind of an admission by the cinema: “Here’s the chairs we could have put in if we’d felt like it. But those are the chairs you’re actually going to get unless you pay our ransom.”
  2. Cup-holders are not an innovation. You get them for free at most other cinemas. Why should you have to pay extra for them at the Odeon? To be honest, with the amount of spillages that Odeon staff have to clean up after each performance, you’d have thought the Odeon would have put them in anyway, just to cut down on the mess. Maybe they have and I just don’t remember them. At which point, the question comes: why am I paying more for Gallery tickets again?
  3. If we’re making people pay a premium for comfy chairs, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop people who haven’t paid the premium from using the chairs? Otherwise, why bother? Putting a little rope across the aisle saying “Don’t come in. Gallery ticket holders only” (or words to that effect) only tends to dissuade a few from making the jump from coach to first class. But if the Odeon understaffs the Gallery so much that no one bothers to check if you have a ticket or not, plenty of people are going to jump the barricades, as they did on Saturday.
  4. You can pick your seats at other cinemas, including other Odeons, for free.

So that’s the Gallery analysis. £10.50 for a slightly quieter bar that you can only go into for half an hour; free food that isn’t as good and you wouldn’t have eaten anyway; drinks you either don’t drink or you don’t drink enough of to justify the price; chairs that you should be getting anyway and which you can get just by stepping over a rope when no one’s looking; and the chance to take alcohol into the movie, assuming you’re drinking, but which you can do for free in other European countries.

On balance, then, I’d say that Saturday was my last Gallery showing for quite some time to come. Sorry, Odeon: that half-hour ruling was the last straw.