What’s changed since Regal bought Wichita’s Warren Theatres?

When it comes to the finer things, Wichita doesn’t have everything the big cities have – especially when it comes to entertainment options.

But the one thing Wichita has always had – and appreciated, cherished and bragged about to out-of-towners – was its Warren Theatres.

Warren Theatres weren’t just any movie theatres. They were deluxe. They were luxurious. They had big, comfy chairs, lavish lobbies, an IMAX, a director’s suite with reclining chairs – and the Warren was among the early adopters of food-and-adult-beverage service at your seat.

We had it good.

Then, without warning, came news in May that owner Bill Warren was selling his seven Warren Theatres, including his five Wichita properties, to Tennessee-based Regal Entertainment Group.

Effective immediately.

Wichita movie goers were nervous, and in the months since the hand-over, many things have changed – and many vocal and devoted Warren fans have registered their displeasure on social media. They complain of leaky popcorn bags, unclean theaters, tiny water cups, website errors and the switch from Pepsi to Coke products meaning – gasp – no more Mountain Dew.

Do not mess with our Warren Theatres.

We’ve been hearing the concerns and complaints and decided to do some investigating to find out exactly what has changed. Our work was made more difficult by the fact that e-mails and phone calls to Regal from The Eagle have gone unanswered. So we did a little reconnaissance work, visiting the east and west Warren theaters armed with checklists. We also polled theatergoers on Facebook and gathered background information from Warren employees who are working through the transition.

Our findings: Some things have changed for the worse. Some things have changed for the better. Some things have changed at some theaters and not yet at others. And some things are likely to still change as the transition continues.

But overall, our movie-going experiences were just as enjoyable as they’ve always been.

Here’s a checklist of our findings, perk by theater perk.

Tickets

TICKET PRICES: They’ve haven’t changed from Warren’s prices, though employees say they were told that they likely will increase. But for now, Regal is charging $7 for matinees and child and senior tickets and $9.99 for standard adult tickets. Tickets to the Warren 21 and specialty screens are still more.

One difference: Regal sells discount child tickets to moviegoers 3-11 and under, where Warren had a more liberal 12-and-under policy for child tickets. At Regal, children 3 and under are admitted free, and seniors age 60 and over qualify for the discount tickets.

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▪ PRINTED TICKETS: One bummer for people who like to save ticket stubs in their scrapbooks: The Warren’s heavy-stock tickets printed with the movie title are gone and replaced with the Regal’s more flimsy tickets, printed on a receipt-like paper. Plus, our ticket for “Spider Man: Homecoming” said only “Spider” rather than the full name of the movie.

Food/Concessions

▪ POPCORN: There are only a few changes here, but the one that has people the most irritated is that smalls and mediums now come in paper bags rather than cardboard tubs. (The large still comes in a tub.) The main problem is that butter can leak through the bags and on to pants, so employees are applying butter just to the top of small and medium servings. Also, the bags are tippy and will fall over and spill their contents everywhere if placed on the floor.

But the good news is that there’s a little more popcorn in every size serving, and customers can still get free refills on large tubs.

As for the flavor of the popcorn, some have reported that it’s saltier than it was when the Warren was doing the popping, but we noticed no real difference.

Employees say that prices on most concessions went up about 10 cents.

▪ SODA: Some theatergoers are unhappy that the theater has switched from Pepsi to Coke products. (Coke and Regal Cinemas have a business partnership.) This means Mello Yello instead of Mountain Dew. But Regal did opt to keep Dr Pepper, which isn’t affiliated with either Pepsi or Coke.

The good news: The new soda cups are enormous, and a medium is way bigger than anything a normal human could ingest. And larges come with free refills on the day of purchase.

▪ FREE WATER CUPS: The Warren was always generous with free water cups, which were a decent size. But when Regal took over, they switched to itty bitty water cups. Customers were not pleased, so the theater managers recently opted to switch back to the Warren-sized water cups.

Perks and deals

▪ REGAL CROWN CLUB: Perhaps the biggest perk of the switchover is that Regal Cinemas offer a loyalty program that allows customers to earn points toward free concessions, movie tickets and more. Upon signing up for an account at regalcrownclub.com, we were immediately awarded a free small popcorn. And after one visit to the theater, where we bought two tickets, a large popcorn and a medium drink, we’ve earned 4,763 credits. It takes 1,500 credits to get a free upsize on your soft drink, 7,000 to get a free small popcorn, 8,000 to get a free small soft drink, and 15,000 to get a free movie ticket. You can also use your points to enter sweepstakes for prizes or to get movie posters and merchandise.

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According to the Regal website, club members get other weekly specials, including 25 percent off candy on Mondays and 50 percent off popcorn on Tuesdays.

You can sign up for your card online and use a QR code on your phone when you check in to the theater each time, or you can get an actual card by signing up at the theater.

This week, the Warren employees were still learning how to use this system, so it took a while for us to redeem our free popcorn. But they figured it out and will surely get faster in the coming weeks.

▪ GREAT DEAL FOR AT&T CUSTOMERS: AT&T customers can visit http://tickettwosdays.att.com and sign up for a program that offers a buy-one, get-one movie ticket deal for select movies on Tuesdays at Wichita’s Regal-owned theaters.

▪ $5 WEDNESDAYS: Regal has kept the Old Town Warren’s popular $5 Wednesday promotion.

▪ EMPLOYEE PERKS: Life has improved a bit for Warren employees under Regal’s management. Previously, they could attend free movies, but only on weeknights. Now they can go on weekends, too. Warren employees have always been allowed free soft drinks, but under Regal’s rules, they must bring their own cups if they want to take advantage.

Web presence

▪ WEBSITE: Warrentheatres.com where many Wichitans go to find show times, is a different place these days. When you arrive at the home screen, you’ll find it split, with an option to click on “Warren Theatres” on the left and an option to click on “Regal Cinemas” on the right.

If you want movie times, click on the red “Regal Cinemas” side of the screen. If you want to keep up with how former owner Bill Warren is doing, click on the black “Warren Theatres” side of the screen.

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One note: We wanted to see “Spider-Man: Homecoming” at the east Warren, but it was not listed on the Regal app or on the site. When we arrived, though, we found that it was in fact playing.

Those little extras

▪ VOICE OF THE THEATRE: Warren’s folksy recorded dad-voice known as the “Voice of the Theatre” remained as of this week, though rumors of his demise are rampant. At our “Spider-Man” viewing, he told us all about Tom Cruise’s “kick butt” movie moves, and it was as delightfully awkward as ever.

▪ PRE-MOVIE REEL: That fun little Warren pre-movie reel that featured 1920s moviegoers happily munching on their concessions, angrily shushing talkative moviegoers and kicking their feet up, show-girl style, to remind us to keep our feet off the seats is long gone. Regal has its own roller coaster-themed pre-movie reel, and it’s fun. But we’ll miss those folks.

▪ AFTER-MOVIE MINTS: The wonderful chocolate-coated mints Warren always distributed after the movie remain, though it’s unclear if they will continue to be offered once the back-room supply runs out. As one employee told us, “We have TONS in the back.”

▪ CLEANLINESS: We’ve been hearing reports that the theaters are less clean since Regal took over, but on our visits to the East and West theaters, we found them as tidy as ever.

▪ EMPLOYEE UNIFORMS: As of this week, the Warren employees are still wearing the (often ill-fitting) old-style theater tuxedo jackets that have been customary. But many of the employees are already in possession of their new navy-and-white Regal uniforms, which are more casual polo shirts printed with both a Regal and a “Coke” logos. Expect to notice that change soon.

▪ CELLPHONES: There’s no change on the Warren’s strict no cellphones policy. Regal has one, too.

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