Chiswick Cinema beset by teething problems

Image above: Chiswick Cinema

The new Chiswick Cinema, which was officially opened by David Puttnam on Thursday 24 June after a week of ‘soft’ launches – free screenings for Founder members – has been beset by teething problems.

The Chiswick Calendar has received a number of complaints about the cinema. “We’re working on it” say the cinema’s management team.

They will be helped greatly by the ending of the requirement to sell seats so cinema goers are socially distanced. Following Sajid Javid’s announcment on Monday 12 July that legal restrictions would be lifted from 19 July. Chiswick Cinema is intending to sell tickets from 23 July without socially distanced seats.

“We will be encouraging our customers to wear masks, sanitise their hands and check in” Marketing Manager Katie Wood told The Chiswick Calendar.

“Operating with social distancing has been very challenging and we do hope that our customers will continue to see films in what they feel is a safe environment”.

Image above: In the Heights – musical shown at the official launch of Chiswick Cinema

Problems with booking tickets

First and foremost, people have reported difficulty using the cinema’s website and booking tickets. When I met Katie in the week before opening she was struggling with this. She hoped to be able to offer all founder members at least one, if not two free screenings in the week before the public launch, but to limit them to two films so everyone had a chance to go. Several Founder members have told us that they were not able to book seats at all, whereas one went three times.

Katie believes the IT problems have now been fixed. “The booking system wasn’t talking to the website” she said. That’s the sort of arcane problem which can only be solved by the tech team and all anyone else can do is hope and apologise.

“We’re working on everything” she told us.

One specific problem is that if you have two members going together, they can’t both book, taking advantage of both their memberships, and sit together. This is a specific problem caused by the requirements for social distancing, which should go away once the restrictions are lifted.

If you both book using different browsers, the system should enable you to sit together, but at the moment an algorhythm kicks in which won’t allow you to sit next to a seat booked by someone else. You can go as the guest of a member, but not both book separately and expect to sit together.

Another problem with booking tickets isn’t so much a problem as a misapprehension about when tickets will become available.

“I realise I need to add some things to the Frequently Asked Questions” says Katie. “People have complained that they can’t book for the following weekend, but it’s custom and practice in the cinema industry for the film week to start on a Friday night. On Mondays we decide what films we’re going to show. We put those tickets on sale to Founder members on Tuesdays and then they go on general sale on Wednesdays, for films released on the Friday of that week”.

This week (week beginning 12 July) they’ve programmed Black Widow, Another Round and Deerskin, a ‘quirky’ film about a man determined to own the best jacket in the world. For families they’re offering the new Space Jam and Croods 2.

Image above: Box Offices are out of fashion

No box office

A lot of this could be solved, it has been pointed out, if there was a physical box office where you could buy tickets. Katie maintains there is. There’s not a cubicle with ‘Box Office’ written on it, but any of the tills in the building are capable of handling tickets sales and membership sales. There is a sign saying ‘Kiosk’ at the bar by the entrance and you can buy tickets from the bar at any time during opening hours. The cinema opens at 10.30 am on weekdays and closes when the last film finishes at night and they are now taking walk-ins.

No land line

There’s no phone number to ring, which is another common complaint. There is, says Katie, but they’re not staffed up to answer it, so they haven’t publicised it.

Given the teething problems and the need to minimise reputational damage, isn’t this something they should address? They are, she said. They have. A new customer service manager started today (12 July) whose name is Jim and the telephone number will be added to the website when they’re confident it won’t just be left to ring unanswered.

Under-staffed

A lot of the problems we raised with the cinema come down to the fact that they are a very small team, trying to keep costs down because they are running at all loss all the time they are required to exercise social distancing with the seating. It was a scramble to open, but they wanted to open as soon as possible.

Insufficient training

We’ve received a number of comments about staff being poorly trained. My favourite is the tale of the punter who asked a member of staff what wine was available. She didn’t know, so she went off to find out, and came back to announce confidently “It’s French”.

They have in fact had several weeks’ training, but said Katie, you have to bear in mind that people haven’t been working for the past eighteen months, they’ve either been furloughed or made redundant and they are still getting used to how things work.

As for other specific grumbles … There shouldn’t be food served in the cinema actually during a film, but they do want people to be able to eat during films and have chosen the most inoffensive menu from the point of view of other people’s comfort…. There shouldn’t be staff talking loudly outside the door while a film is running … She’ll have a word.

Image above: Chiswick Cinema

No programme of films listed

Those of us old enough to remember will have seen someone on a ladder back in the day, putting up the film names above the door of the cinema. Those who’ve been into Chiswick Cinema have looked around in vain for a billboard or a sign with the films listed.

There are posters in the foyer, she said hestitantly, and TV screens with information on, but this is also something they have taken note of to improve.

Bouquets and brickbats

As well as the brickbats they’ve received, there has been plenty of praise, Katie told us – even a bouquet of flowers from an appreciative customer to mark their long-awaited opening. In fact, she reckons, they’ve received more praise than they have criticism. But she was very keen to let people know that their comments are being noted and they are doing their best to address the teething problems they’ve had.

“We understand there have been some hiccups since opening a couple of weeks ago. As a brand new venue launching during very challenging times, we hope that our customers will allow us the opportunity to fix and perfect things. Our team are incredibly excited to be running the cinema in Chiswick and hope that it will become a hub of the community”.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: David Puttnam opens Chiswick Cinema

See also: Chiswick Book Festival 2021

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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