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From The Founder: Why did the Dinner Theater die?

Written By Ken Davenport

Ring the bells, for the Dinner Theater is no more.

Ok, I’m being slightly dramatic.  There are a few dinner theaters still around serving up so-so steaks, and the National Dinner Theatre Association is still up and running (even though it only has 20 members), but the golden era of eating Chicken Marsala while seeing a performance of Hello Dolly seems to have come to an untimely end.

I remember the early 90s when there were about 20 Dinner Theatres in the Baltimore area alone!  (I closed one of those B’more theaters with a production of Evita.)  And every city seemed to have at least one.  Sure, they were the butt of a bunch of jokes (usually when an actor was referring to his/her career hitting the skids), but what wasn’t to love about a dinner theater:  a musical, a meal, and all in the same place, and for one low price!

So what happened?

I’m not exactly sure.  “Dinner and a show” seems to be an easy combination to sell.  And a theater having another way to make money besides just ticket sales seems like a great way to add to the bottom line.  Was it that there were too many theaters period, dinner, or not?  Was it an older audience thing, whereas today’s crowds don’t want to sit in the same place for a two and a half hour show and a two hour meal?  Is it because theater is a luxury purchase, so saving a few bucks by “showing where you eat” worth it?

Unfortunately for us, the Dinner Theater seems to have gone the way of the Drive-In, which in theory seems to be a cool way to consume a movie, but in practicality just doesn’t seem to fit with a consumer’s lifestyle


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