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Tips for Visiting a Drive-In

It is important to keep in mind that every drive-in theater is different and each has its own unique set of rules. Some for instance allow pets and others do not. Some allow outside food to be brought onto the drive-in grounds and some strictly prohibit it. For that reason, it is always important to review the rules and policies of the specific drive-in theater you intend to visit. Some drive-ins clearly state on their websites that they will eject patrons from the theater grounds (without refunds) if some policies are violated (such as bringing in outside food). You certainly do not want a misunderstanding to ruin your drive-in experience so please be familiar with the rules and policies of each specific drive-in theater you visit. Most drive-ins have websites that outline their specific policies. If not, a quick call to the drive-in is a good idea to get your questions answered. We make it easy to contact each drive-in our in database as we list phone numbers and website addresses if they are available.

So keeping in mind that each drive-in is different and the rules may vary, here are some general tips to consider when visiting a drive-in and even some questions to ask them before arriving:

  • Check to ensure you know the days and times the drive-in is open. Drive-in theaters in colder weather areas are generally only open seasonally. And some smaller or more rural drive-ins are only open on weekend and holiday nights. Also, the movie times change throughout the year along with the time of sunset. So check in advance to ensure you have the proper times.
  • Arrive early. Drive-in lines, especially for drive-ins only open seasonally or on weekends, can get quite long. Plan to arrive early (at least 30 minutes before show time to secure a spot). During mid-summer weekend nights, we have to arrive almost 2 hours early to our favorite drive-in to get a good spot.
  • Related to the above, bring things to keep everyone occupied if you do plan to arrive early. Our kids like to take board games to play and balls to throw around when we get there 2 hours early. We also plan to have dinner there to both support the drive-in and kill some more time. Some drive-ins still have playgrounds for smaller kids.
  • Take plenty of CASH. Many drive-ins only accept cash at the box office and the concession stand. More drive-in concession stands are moving towards accepting credit cards. But even some that accept credit cards at the concession stand only still accept cash at the box office. One reason is that accepting credit cards slows down the lines at the box office.
  • If you want to bring the family pet, call ahead. Many drive-ins still allow dogs as long as they are on a leash at all times and you bring bags to pick up any waste. But there are also a large number of drive-ins that no longer allow pets primarily for insurance reasons.
  • Bring sleeping bags, chairs, pillows, etc… in order to sit outside. Sitting outside under the stars on a warm summer night is one of the main attractions of the drive-in in our opinion. However, also be aware that there are a few drive-ins that do not allow you to sit outside of your vehicle so you will have to determine if that is possible before you arrive.
  • Bring portable radios. Most drive-ins now use FM signals to broadcast the audio for the movies. So if you plan to sit outside your vehicle, bring a radio to listen to the sound.
  • Generally, you should not bring food and drink to the drive-in. All drive-ins have concession stands from which they make the majority of their money. Studios generally take 80% - 90% of the money collected at the box office so drive-ins (like indoor cinemas) make very little money off the admission price. They make most of their money off concession sales, just like indoor cinemas. Some drive-ins even strictly prohibit outside food and drink from being brought onto the premises and state patrons will be ejected (without refunds) if caught with outside food and drink.
  • The exception to the above is that some drive-ins now sell "food permits", generally for $5 - $10. If you want to bring outside food and drink, you can buy a food permit and it is allowed. This helps the drive-in offset the loss of revenue from the concession stand.
  • Do not bring alcohol. Almost all drive-ins ban alcohol for a variety of reasons. The main reason being liability since they do not want you sitting in your car drinking and then driving home. However, there are a few drive-ins that sell beer and alcohol at their concession stands. But in those few cases, the alcohol must be consumed in the concession area and cannot be taken back to your vehicle.
  • Be considerate of others when parking. Do not take up more than one spot unless the movie is about to start and it is obviously not crowded. Also, if you have one of today's large SUVs or trucks, try to park in such a way that you do not block the view of others behind you. Some drive-ins even have colored coded systems that only allow certain vehicles to park in certain areas (small cars down front, large trucks in the back and sides, etc…).
  • Know how your lights work and how to turn them off before you get to the drive-in. Most new cars have lights that stay on for certain periods of time after the vehicle is stopped. Others have interior lights that remain on while there is a door or hatch that is open. Make sure to read your vehicle’s manual and know how to turn all of these off once the movie starts.
  • Bring everything you need for an evening outside. That could even mean sunscreen if you are arriving a few hours early in the dead of summer. But also think about bringing bug repellant and warmer clothes as it will cool off as the sun goes down. Remember, if you may be outside for 4-5 hours (if seeing a double feature). So prepare for any bugs and weather changes.
  • While outside and even when you are in your car, a few drive-ins ban smoking (most do allow it though). Just be clear on the rules before lighting up.
  • Keep an eye on your kids and educate them about the drive-in. Small kids especially can be hard to see when walking between cars at night. Make sure your kids are aware that vehicles can start and move at a moment’s notice and to be careful in wondering around the facilities.
  • Bring FRIENDS for the KIDS and You! One of the great aspects of the drive-in is being able to socialize before and during the movie. Our kids love taking their friends. They all either lay on the ground together or in the back of the SUV and seem to laugh and giggle the entire time. You can’t do that at an indoor movie.
  • Bring small flashlights, especially for the kids. These can be used to help make your way to the restroom during the movie when all other lights will be out.
  • Dress comfortably. No one cares what you look like at the drive-in so wear what is comfortable. Our kids always wear their pajamas which makes it convenient when putting them to bed after we arrive home late and they are asleep in the car.
  • Remember, it is easy to see inside of cars. Some people forget this fact and seem to think no one can see what they are doing inside their car during the movie. This especially applies to the more "romantically inclined".

The main thing to keep in mind when going to the drive-in is it should be a relaxing, fun experience for the entire family. So get there early, bring plenty of friends and enjoy a night under the stars.