The Wonderful Art of Seat Saving

posted by Michael Zoldessy on December 1, 2006 at 7:15 am

I can’t begin to tell you how much it pissed me off when my buddy told me we’d be saving seats for his sister when we saw “Munich” one Saturday night. Not just his sister but her husband and two of their friends. I didn’t even know any of these people and here I am sticking my neck out, letting them tarnish my perfect opening weekend experience.

To understand exactly the degree to which this bothered me, you have to realize the tradition that was being jeopardized. For years, he and I have seen every Steven Spielberg film either opening night or opening weekend. Crossing state lines, going to the theater on no sleep; nothing ever stopped us from the event. Almost nothing, until his sister had to have dinner.

So we were seeing this film the night after I’d just taken a red eye back from Los Angeles. Exhausted, I went to sleep until just before I had to drive to the theater. We only left time to get to the theater an hour in advance so we could procure the best seats in the house. Then I received the exciting news that we would have to save four prime seats next to us. I hadn’t planned on having dinner until afterwards. Some TGI Fridays chicken strips sounded pretty nice to me too at the time but I sacrificed them for my opening weekend experience. Not them though. Not the people that would end up watching the film from almost as good a sightline as I.

As we came closer and closer to showtime, I became more and more well versed in spotting those eyeing our seats and waving them off. By the end, I didn’t even have to use any words cause I had the hand motions down to a science.

But what are the rules though? Is it a free for all once the lights dim? Are modifications made for opening nights or event films? I couldn’t tell you cause it’s not like anyone has ever saved seats for me. His sister sure hasn’t. I on the other hand got to the theater at 6AM the morning before the last Lord of the Rings film was released. My friend and I even have a deal where we rotate flying cross country each year to visit the other and see the year’s biggest film at midnight opening night. That’s what I call dedication. That’s the type of person that doesn’t show up for a movie opening weekend while the first credits are rolling.

So where does it end and where does it begin? Do you subscribe to a specific set of rules on this subject? At least when it comes to opening weekend or a theater that’s for the most part packed, I think that you should sleep in the bed you make and wait in line. Just my take on it though.

(Thanks to rherring for providing the photo.)

We encourage you to share your thoughts on the subject. For comments on the article or the blog itself, feel free to email me.

Comments (26)

Ziggy on December 1, 2006 at 7:22 am

Ummm, the rule is, unless you’ve bought tickets, then you have no right to those seats. Sooooo, if I’d been there and truly wanted them, no amount of hand waving or jacket draping would have kept me out of them.

Ziggy on December 1, 2006 at 7:24 am

As an addendum, I wouldn’t cross the street to see a Steven Speilberg film (unless it’s playing at some theatre I’ve been aching to see the inside of).

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 1, 2006 at 7:41 am

Ziggy… I’d be inclined to agree with you. However, how do you tell the difference between seats being saved for patrons not yet through the theater entance and those who are merely out at the concession stands or rest rooms? I suppose you could keep an eye on the seats in question and then when you see folks arriving who have obviously just arrived from the outside, you could harangue them and start an argument (possibly as the credits begin to roll, if those arriving are doing so at the last minute). It’s really a no-win situation. Folks should arrange to meet each other in the lobby or at the box office and simply advise others that they are on their own once the “curtain goes up”, so to speak. Mike… you should have held firm to your beliefs.

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on December 1, 2006 at 7:57 am

My girlfriend tried to save nine seats at a packed opening-night show. She pulled it off, but man, people were pissed! (And rightly so.)

longislandmovies on December 1, 2006 at 8:16 am

I would save seats for a friend and have no guilt …..people love to complain about everything!~

Ziggy on December 1, 2006 at 9:19 am

Hi Ed, Personally, I don’t buy stuff at the theatre, but if I did, I wouldn’t buy a ticket, enter the auditorium to save a seat, and then go back out to the lobby to use the restroom or buy candy. So my rule is, if the movie hasn’t started, all seats are fair game. Also, you have to use a little judgement. If someone is saving one or two seats, there is always a chance that they could have sat down and realized they forgot something. If someone is saving four or more seats (NINE!??!? For crying out loud! That is just ridiculous!! Patrick, please tell me your girlfriend is 17 or younger. I hate to think of an adult running around with that kind of attitude) then it’s safe to assume that they’re being held for a party that hasn’t arrived yet.

JodarMovieFan on December 1, 2006 at 10:30 am

I think if you’re going to save multiple seats, there should be more than just ONE in the party to be there. I would never subject my friends or relatives to do that for me, nor would I do that for them. If there are at least three, then you can position 2 of the 3 at either end of the spread of the 9 seats and the third, in the middle. I don’t think it wrong to save seats if they are PAID seats.

On the other hand, if I wanted my favorite seat or section, in the middle to front of the theater, and its in a section of ‘saved’ seats and those people who are saving those seats cannot present the tickets for them, then my ticket would entitle me to any seat in the auditorium, including the ‘saved’ seat(s) since there isn’t a ticket to vouch for that seat. In all honesty, in all the years of cinema attendance, I’ve never felt inclined to do that as I have always found a good seat. If its in a THX-certified auditorium, which is where I like to see most movies anyway, the sound should be good in any seat right?

If you’re dedicated opening-day moviegoer and you HAVE to have your FAVORITE seat or section, than its up to you or someone in your party to ensure that someone is there early enough to save your favorite seat or section. Even if you can’t secure your favorite spot, its not all that bad to sit a little closer or further from the screen. If not, then see another showing.

As far as getting food and into the auditorium, there are ways to do it undetected but let’s save that for another discussion……. :–)

Roger Katz
Roger Katz on December 1, 2006 at 4:35 pm

Is saving seats really an issue? I don’t think I’ve been to too many films where there weren’t one to two hundred empty seats.

longislandmovies on December 1, 2006 at 5:24 pm

lol……………..very true roger

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 1, 2006 at 8:35 pm

Well… obviously we’re debating her for the sake of debating… isn’t that what a blog is all about? I don’t think anyone would argue that in a big roomy theater at a sparsely attended show there would be much of an issue. And truly, who really cares if you can find a seat a row or two in either direction? But as a matter of common decency, I think folks should be considerate of others when planning their night out at the movies with friends – like, how about an honest effort to get there in a timely fashion? Saving a seat for one or two friends might be reasonable, but four or five or – egads, Patrick – nine?!?!? And at a crowded opening night screening? That’s really what we’re talking about here … and if you ask me, I think it’s rude.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 1, 2006 at 8:37 pm

I meant “here” not “her” in the first sentence of that last post.

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on December 2, 2006 at 9:31 am

Hey…. it wasn’t my idea to save nine seats, guys. But I do have to defend my girlfriend. ;)

  • The screening was for a film her aunt produced
  • We bought nine tickets in advance for the seats we were saving
  • We sat in a ground-level row in a stadium-style theater (leaving better seats for others)
  • The movie was much more popular than we anticipated
  • Most people were okay with it.

Would I do it again? Probably not. Would I do this for a normal movie? Definitely not. Do I think it’s pushing it to save so many seats? Sure, but it was a special occasion.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 2, 2006 at 9:42 am

There is a sequence in one of the old “Seinfeld” shows in which the character of Elaine attempts to save 3 seats in a busy Manhatten cinema prior to a Saturday night screening. The gag was milked for all it was worth!

bloosoda on December 2, 2006 at 1:06 pm

Patrick: I think the saving grace in your case was, as you explained, the fact that tickets had already been purchased for all 9 seats. It is unreasonable to hold that many otherwise.

jmarellano on December 2, 2006 at 3:12 pm

Our AMC had a policy that a seat could be saved up until the trailers started, then the seat needed to be given up.

JodarMovieFan on December 2, 2006 at 4:09 pm


Who is to say that the ground level seats in a stadium-style auditorium are NOT choice seats? It is for me and my friends that go to the movies. You have the best legroom in the house, still decent sightlines and don’t have that annoying kid or patron behind you kicking your seatback!

If your g-friend’s Aunt was the Producer, I would have asked her to request Managment to cord off a section for your party as a VIP section or for the Press. This has been done at my favorite plex.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on December 2, 2006 at 6:03 pm

It’s always something around here.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on December 2, 2006 at 8:42 pm

Remember the episode of SEINFELD in which Elaine tries to save seats for everyone? I beleive she ends up giving them all away!

stevenj on December 3, 2006 at 12:23 pm

The “art” of seat saving now includes saving the seat for your hat, coat and umbrella. At a recent and very crowded showing of Casino Royale I heard numerous people ask a woman 2 rows back if the seat next to her was being saved (the one with her hat coat and umbrella). She said yes. After the movie started I noticed her hat, coat and umbrella having a wonderful time watching the new James Bond film.

stevemcgarrett on December 5, 2006 at 9:10 pm

My thoughts on Savings Seats is if you got there EARLY, snooze you lose! If you had to step away to the concession stand, use the bathroom, whatever make it snappy and get your behinds back into the seats before the movie starts.
But then again if you got there late you are pretty much have to make do with whats left. I have seen many MANY times when ppl are endlessly looking for those ideal seats. And I HATE accomodating for others so that so and so can sit together.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 18, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Most theatres I worked at had a cut off with about 10 or 15 seats not sold,just for the room. when I got to GCC there was no such thing has a cut off number we sold every seat in the cinema,If dates didn’t want to split up once we got to singles{I ain’t kidding} then we pull single folks out of line and put them in a seat.SAVE A SEAT at GCC in Augusta,Georgia? FORGET IT!

TLSLOEWS on May 18, 2010 at 8:41 pm

If you and your friends all got there at the same time this would not be an issue,also unless the theatre is packed there should not be a problem to begin with.One time at the LOEWS CRESCENT we sold more tickets than seats,of course we gave out some refunds,very rare to say,some people watched the movie standing in the back or on the floor,they did not want their money back.I remember we wrote on the refund forms SRO,standing room only,this only happened once in all my time in the business.

kbue on May 20, 2010 at 10:59 am

If you are saving three or more seats, I will not hesitate to sit down— right next to you, if necessary. The secret is, nobody can keep you out of an empty seat. People may try to make me feel uncomfortable, but nothing phases me. I will not sacrifice my good time for a group of people I don’t know. Courtesy will only be extended when what is being asked of me is within reason. It’s rude to ask people you don’t know to go sit in the front row because your friends are at Applebee’s and are running late.

catyorkc on June 19, 2010 at 1:27 am

I’m researching the etiquette on this because someone called the manager on me for saving seats this evening. My in-laws were behind me in line with my children because they had grabbed a bite to eat. My friends and I went in about 2 minutes ahead of them to save seats. We were among the first to enter the theatre. My friend set down her jacket and purse and went to get her daughter – who she realized didn’t have her ticket stub and needed it to get through all the check points. I was left holding 7 seats – but the theatre had not yet really become busy. I didn’t feel weird doing it, and I’m usually hyper sensitive about being fair. I only said to one group of people that I was holding the seats for family/friends who were right behind me. I held them for less than 5 minutes – well before the show began. I heard the group making jokes about getting a “reserved” sign – but then I was surprised moments later when the manager showed up – just as the rest of my party appeared. The man who summoned the manager said he was making a point. I’m not usually a seat saver. I will be more careful in the future. I didn’t feel like I had done anything wrong – in fact – there were many seats left and would have moved if I had felt like I was unethically “saving seats”. It was an uncomfortable situation to say the least. Then we had sit behind these people the whole time.

MPol on July 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Saving a seat for one or possibly two other people, unless the theatre is super-crowded, is one thing, but saving for a half-dozen or more…that’s ludicrous! That’s bound to piss people off…and rightly so.

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