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How To Go To a Drive-in Movie Theater Like a Pro: 10 Essential Tips You Need To Know

How To Go To a Drive-in Movie Theater Like a Pro: 10 Essential Tips You Need To Know

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how to go to a drive-in movie theater

Ladies, fluff up those poodle skirts!  Gents, grease up that hair!  And everyone rev up your engines! Thanks to the pandemic, drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback and that really razzes our berries.  

Drive-ins have been around since 1933 and had their heyday back in the 1950s and ’60s. This previously declining facet of Americana has been recently gaining in popularity due to its built-in safety and distancing measures. Many people who are desperate for a shared, communal entertainment experience “apart yet together” after months of solitude have never been to a drive-in, and therefore don’t even know how to go to a drive-in movie theater. There are definitely some tips and tricks that only seasoned patrons are aware of. So, if you are a novice drive-in movie theater goer, we are here to help.

Here are 10 of the most essential tips and tricks you need to know for how to go to a drive-in movie theater like a pro and to help you get the most out of your experience.

1.   Plan for a late night

2.   Arrive early

3.   Bring activities for downtime

4.   Be aware of some vehicle regulations

5.   Plan your food and snacks

6.   Bring bug spray

7.   Wear comfy clothes

8.   Bring a portable radio with extra batteries and turn off your car

9.   Create a comfortable set-up

10. Be courteous and considerate of other moviegoers

Let’s take a look at these tips in more detail. 

1. Plan for a late night

The first thing to be aware of when planning how to go to a drive-in movie theater is that most drive-in movies don’t start until after it begins to get dark. So, depending on the season, showtimes can run kind of late, especially if you’re there for a double feature.  Of course, you are always able to leave whenever you need to, but you might as well get your money’s worth by preparing ahead of time to make a night of it. So, if you’re not normally a night owl, maybe bring along a thermos of coffee.

2. Arrive early

You will want to have ample time once you arrive to snag a great parking spot close to the screen. Then get yourself situated and your set-up on point, and hit the concession stand. You can’t do all that if you’re stuck in the line of cars that inevitably builds up as it gets closer to showtime.  So do yourself a favor and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes to an hour early.  In the busier summer months and weekends, shoot for even earlier if possible.

3. Bring activities for downtime

If you know how to go to a drive-in movie theater and are doing it right, there will be extra time to kill since you will get there early and stay for the double feature (if offered). This means you’ll have time between films as well. If this is a solo night, bring a book or get on your phone and catch up on some interesting articles online. If you’re with friends or family, this would be a great time to bring out some of your favorite board games or a deck of cards, and maybe enjoy some concessions, too.

4. Be aware of some vehicle regulations

If you have a standard-sized sedan or smaller, no worries here.  But it is good to know how to go to a drive-in movie theater ahead of time if you have a larger truck, SUV, or a lifted vehicle of any kind. If so, you may be asked by the theater attendants to move and re-park your vehicle if it is obstructing the view of others. Sometimes, the theater may have designated spots for larger vehicles.  

Additionally, if you have a vehicle with a hatchback, you might plan to park backward with the hatch open so you can sit in the back for viewing. Keep in mind that most drive-ins will not allow the hatch to be opened above the roof of the car as that can also obstruct the view of other moviegoers. Make sure to bring some rope or another preferred mechanism to keep it tied down below roof level.  

5. Plan your food and snacks

Every drive-in movie theater varies on whether or not they allow outside food and drinks. Make sure you visit the website of your local drive-in movie theater you plan to attend or call ahead to make sure you are aware of their policies.  

Film studios take a super steep percentage of ticket sales at the box office, so admission prices alone are not enough for the theater to stay afloat. Drive-ins (just like indoor movie theaters) are usually only able to stay in business due to the money made off of concessions, which is why some have very strict “no outside food” policies.  If so, you will definitely not be left hungry as most drive-in movie theaters have plenty of excellent, varied, and relatively inexpensive concessions to offer.  A limited few here and there even serve beer and wine (to be consumed on the premises).  

If they do allow outside food, however, bringing your own picnic can be a fun and money-saving way to create your tailored experience.  If you do opt to bring your own food, just make sure to visit the concession stand for drinks or snacks at least once to help support your local drive-in. Always have cash, just in case.

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6. Bring bug spray

Watching a new blockbuster or favorite classic under the stars in the crisp night air and enjoying the breeze is all part of the charm of experiencing a drive-in movie. However, when your exposure to that delightful breeze is also met with exposure to mosquito bites, it can really suck (mosquito pun intended). This is an important part of knowing how to go to a drive-in movie theater and being prepared.  So, if you live in an area that tends to be very inviting to lots of mosquitoes or other pesky bugs, make sure to bring plenty of bug spray with you for your group.  In fact, go ahead and have some on hand no matter what, just in case.

7. Wear comfy clothes

Make sure you check the weather forecast for the evening and dress accordingly.  A good rule of thumb is to always bring an extra jacket or sweater for after the sun goes down. When you’re sitting outside in the elements for that long it always feels colder than you’d expect.  

But other than that, the dress code for those who really know how to go to a drive-in movie theater is unanimously COMFY.  Wear your favorite hoodie with pride, find your fuzziest socks, and take this opportunity to bring out that old Snuggie and use it to its fullest intended potential.

8. Bring a portable radio with extra batteries and turn off your car

Back in the old days of the drive-in when Danny Zuko was trying to get fresh with Sandy on “Grease”, every parking spot was fitted with a little speaker for each car’s personal audio for the film.  Some theaters still have those speakers there as a nostalgic nuance. However, nowadays the audio is broadcast through a screen-specific FM radio station that each car can tune into on its own.  If you don’t plan for this, you will be limited to using your car stereo and will have to keep your car on the whole time. This can kill your car’s battery or waste a lot of gas if you leave it running.  The theater is usually prepared for this with jumper cables on hand for vehicles that need a jump at the end of the night.  It can be an annoying hassle to have to deal with and kind of puts a little damper on what was hopefully otherwise such a delightful experience.  

To avoid this, if you know how to go to a drive-in movie theater like a pro, you will bring your own portable radio with extra batteries.  This will provide the best option for quality audio. It also gives you portability if you want to rearrange yourselves outside your vehicle (when allowed) and will give you (and other moviegoers) an escape from the annoying rumble and ‘exhausting’ smell of your engine running.  Plus, you’ll avoid the problem of certain lights not turning off in or on your vehicle while keyed-up, which can disturb the view for others.

9. Create a comfortable set-up

Another thing to be aware of when learning how to go to a drive-in movie theater like a pro is that each establishment has its own rules for whether you are confined to the inside of your vehicle (or truck bed) or are allowed to sit outside your vehicle.  This is especially true when safety measures are being taken by some establishments during the pandemic.  So, again, this is another thing to check for on your local drive-in theater’s website or by phone.  

If outdoor seating is allowed, this is where you can get really creative and make your drive-in experience all your own.  Certain vehicles have different capabilities. For example, as mentioned before, those with a hatchback can be parked backward and opened (as long as it is tied down at roof level) for seating in the back. Make it comfortable by adding blankets, sleeping bags, or pillows.  Similarly, the bed of a pickup truck facing the screen can be decked out with air mattresses and sometimes even old loveseats or lounge chairs if you’re really going pro!  But if you are limited to a smaller vehicle, even just a simple set-up of foldable camping chairs or blankets and pillows on the ground can add to an extra cozy evening of movies under the stars.

10. Be courteous and considerate of other moviegoers 

Last, but definitely not least, knowing how to go to a drive-in movie like a pro means always remembering to be courteous and considerate of your fellow moviegoers.  Being confined to in-and-around your own vehicle provides a sense of safety and exclusivity. This is great with regards to a certain virus (which shall not be named), but not great if your seclusion makes you forget to be aware that there are others around you who want to enjoy their safe night out just as much as you do.  

Make sure you know how your own vehicle’s lights work (interior and exterior) before arriving so you can ensure that all of them remain OFF during showtime.  If you have a larger vehicle or plan on making use of an open hatchback, be aware of where you park so that you are not blocking the view of others and/or have the means to tie down any obstructions you might need to.  Don’t talk too loudly within your group or play anything over your stereo other than the film’s audio provided by the theater over the correct FM radio station.  And lastly, remember that this is not the tonsil-hockey arena it might once have been for your grandparents. Drive-in movie theaters are now a family-friendly environment. So, if this is a date-night please save the “Netflix-and-chill” for where it belongs, and leave the hickeys to Kenickie.

Whether you’ve never been to a drive-in movie theater or maybe it’s just been a while, we hope you’ll find this list of tips for how to go to a drive-in movie theater like a pro helpful in getting the most out of your drive-in experience soon!  

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