The Stars At Night

Mini Austin drive-in theater flickers back on with big safety measures

Mini Austin drive-in theater flickers back on with big safety measures

Blue Starlite Drive-in movie theater
Owner Josh Frank says he thought about what would make his family comfortable before reopening. Photo courtesy of Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In

Since May 4, Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In’s Austin location has been back in business, but with a new message: “Practice Safe Cinema.”

Blue Starlite initially closed its Austin at 2103 E M. Franklin Ave. location on March 25 when the city initiated its shelter-in-place mandate. Prior to reopening, the team spent a few days deciding what new social distancing policies to put in place and worked to make sure these would be clear to future visitors before anyone bought tickets.

When it came to deciding those exact rules, Josh Frank, owner of Blue Starlite, says he thought about what would make him feel comfortable if he was bringing his own family out for the first time after sheltering.

“I wanted my night of entertainment for families to feel 100 times safer than how I felt doing simple ‘essential’ tasks during the shelter in place,” he says.

Frank also looked at what other drive-ins around the country were doing, taking advantage of the fact that Blue Starlite is fairly small in comparison and thus able to take some safety measures even further.

As a result, Blue Starlite has implemented a series of social distancing operations, laid out on a designated page on its website.

For example, Blue Starlite is limiting car spaces to half of the normal amount, and are not allowing any walk-in options, except at the forest screen, which has a restricted number of visitors so moviegoers will have up to 15 feet of space between them.

Additionally, the drive-in is providing a text-for-help option so guests can get assistance safely from the comfort of their cars. It is also handing visitors concessions upon check-in so there’s no necessity for additional contact later as the night continues.

“It’s interesting, in Austin we get no pushback, everyone seems actually really pleased with our rules and grateful," Frank says. "A few customers are disappointed when they learn they can’t sit in hatchback or truck beds, but it is very clear on our website that that is the case so it’s their bad for not reading it.”

Other social distancing rules include the fact that windows must be rolled up 75 percent if you’re not wearing a mask during the movie, and you are required to wear a mask if you walk to the bathroom.

Frank admits that wearing masks has presented an interesting new issue for the drive-in's operations.

“We had to find a fix for the fact that communicating behind a mask makes it hard not to come across as having an angry demeanor when telling people to put their mask on, roll their window up correctly, or get back in their car,” he says. “We try to do it in a friendly voice and manner but anytime you give people ‘orders,’ especially ones they might not agree with because of their own viewpoints or politics, it can come across as a demand."

Before the pandemic, Frank said the drive-in would usually sell out on the weekends but be hit-or-miss on other nights. Since the pandemic, he has seen shows selling out every night.

When asked why he thinks going to a drive-in is appealing to so many people right now, Frank says, “It’s like watching a movie at home in your own space, but you still get to get out of the house and share a group experience in a safe way!”

Even as businesses reopen, there’s no denying that many Austinites still have concerns about going to public gatherings of any kind. To them, Frank has a message:

“Don’t go out until you are ready — even to our place,” he says. “Even if something scientifically is safe, that only means so much. Emotional safety is just as important and that is I think something some folks who are ready to get out and get back to 'normal’ don’t understand. Everyone has their own emotional and physical feeling of safety at this time and no one’s feelings are wrong. Every business makes their own decisions now on which customers to focus on in their comfortability.”

More information about Blue Starlite’s complete social distancing rules and their upcoming showtimes are available at here.