How To Start a Drive In Movie Theater

How To Start a Drive In Movie Theater

How To Start a Drive In Movie Theater, offering a blend of nostalgia and a safe, socially distanced entertainment option. If you’re thinking about starting your own drive-in movie theater, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know.

The Appeal of Drive-In Movie Theaters

Nostalgia and Unique Experience

Drive-ins harken back to a simpler time, offering a unique experience that traditional theaters can’t match. People love the novelty of watching movies under the stars, creating memories that last a lifetime.

Social Distancing and Safety

In a world where social distancing has become the norm, drive-ins provide a safe way for people to enjoy movies together without leaving their cars, making them an appealing option during health crises.

Research and Planning

Market Research

Before diving in, conduct thorough market research. Understand your potential audience, analyze competitors, and identify what makes your drive-in unique.

Location Scouting

Location is key. Look for areas with high visibility and easy access, ideally with minimal noise pollution. Proximity to urban areas can also boost attendance.

Securing a Location

Space Requirements

Ensure you have enough space for parking, a screen, concessions, restrooms, and perhaps a playground for kids. A good rule of thumb is at least 10-15 acres.

Zoning and Permits

Check local zoning laws and obtain necessary permits. Each area has different regulations, so contact your local planning department early in the process.

Equipment and Technology How To Start a Drive In Movie Theater

Projector and Screen

Invest in a high-quality projector and a durable screen. Digital projectors are popular due to their superior image quality and ease of use. For the screen, consider inflatable or permanent options.

Sound System

Sound is crucial. FM transmitters allow movie audio to be broadcast directly to car radios, providing a clear listening experience. Alternatively, traditional speakers can be set up throughout the lot.

Ticketing System

Choose a reliable ticketing system. Online ticket sales can streamline entry and reduce congestion. Consider mobile scanning options to enhance the customer experience.

Designing the Layout

Parking Arrangement

Design an efficient parking layout that maximizes space while ensuring every car has a good view. Angled parking can help with sightlines and organization.

Concessions and Restrooms

Place concessions and restrooms in central, easily accessible locations. Offering a variety of food and drink options can significantly increase your revenue.

Setting Up the Screen and Projector

Screen Types

Decide between inflatable, fixed-frame, or truss screens. Each has its pros and cons in terms of cost, durability, and ease of setup.

Projector Placement

Ensure the projector is placed at the optimal distance from the screen for the best picture quality. Protect it from the elements with a weatherproof housing.

Audio Options

FM Transmitter

An FM transmitter allows customers to listen to the movie through their car radios. Ensure you have a powerful transmitter and a clear signal to avoid interference.

Traditional Speakers

For a more retro feel, install traditional speakers throughout the lot. While this adds to the ambiance, it can be more challenging to maintain sound quality for all viewers.

Creating a Business Plan

Financial Projections

This will help you secure funding and manage your finances effectively.

Marketing Strategy

Develop a robust marketing strategy. Utilize social media, local advertising, and partnerships with local businesses to attract customers.

Acquiring Licenses and Permits

Film Licensing

Obtain the necessary licenses to show movies. Contact distributors or use licensing agencies to ensure you have the right to screen each film.

Health and Safety Regulations

Adhere to all health and safety regulations. Regularly inspect your facilities and train staff to handle emergencies.

Marketing Your Drive-In Theater

Social Media Campaigns

Leverage social media to build buzz. Share engaging content, run contests, and interact with your audience to create a loyal following.

Local Advertising

Use local newspapers, radio, and community boards to advertise. Partner with local businesses for cross-promotions and sponsorships.

Opening Night Preparation

Staff Training

Train your staff thoroughly to ensure smooth operations. Cover everything from customer service to technical troubleshooting.

Dry Run

Conduct a dry run before opening night. This will help you identify and fix any issues in your setup or operations.

Managing Operations


Hire enough staff to handle peak times efficiently. Customer service is key, so ensure your team is friendly and knowledgeable.

Customer Service

Create a welcoming atmosphere. Address customer complaints quickly and make every effort to enhance their experience.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Technical Difficulties

Be prepared for technical glitches. Keep spare equipment on hand and have a technician available during showtimes.

Weather Considerations

Have a plan for inclement weather. Offer rain checks or refunds if a show is canceled, and communicate clearly with your customers.

Maximizing Profit

Diversifying Concessions

Expand your concession offerings to include unique and gourmet options. This can significantly increase your profit margins.

Hosting Special Events

Host themed nights, double features, or live performances to draw in larger crowds. Special events can boost ticket sales and create community engagement.


Starting How To Start a Drive In Movie Theater involves careful planning and execution, but the rewards are worth it. By offering a unique and nostalgic experience, you can create a successful business that brings joy to your community.