Ever since I was little, I have always loved going to the drive-in. However, I never thought about the work that goes into keeping the drive-in running.
I recently spent a couple hours “working” at the drive-in. I enjoyed my time there and was impressed, especially by the owners.
Jim and Cheryl Doughty have officially owned the Starview since the end of 2015.
The couple work well together. They laughed, teased each other, shared the credit card machine and helped each other with change. Although scores of cars went through the line, for each transaction, the Doughtys kept the same genuine smile and friendliness.
Out of consideration for smaller vehicles, large trucks were asked to park behind the concessions, not in front of a vehicle smaller than them so there would not be a restricted view.
In the ticket booth, Cheryl managed one side and Jim did the other. They asked each car how many were in the vehicle and if they were bringing in outside food or drink. The process was much smoother when patrons paid with cash, but there is a credit card machine available, with an included service charge. I was impressed with the math the couple did in their heads to give everyone their totals. Simple mental math is not my strong suit.
For the most part, customers seemed to be telling the truth. Sometimes, people lie about how many people they have, how old their children are or about bringing in food. If the owners notice this dishonesty they will call people out on it; it’s just sad that this happens in the first place. That would be stealing from the friendly couple welcoming you to the drive-in.
I arrived shortly before 8 p.m. and an hour later, there was still a line full of cars waiting to get in on both sides.
Once the movies begin, viewers tune in to FM 88.5 or rent a radio from concessions on a first come, first serve basis.
The movies showing during my night were “Lion King” and “Toy Story 4.”
As with most businesses, the drive-in faces its share complainers. In most cases, it is impossible to please everyone and movie selection is no exception.
The Doughtys do get to choose movies, but they have to abide by the contract from the production company. For example, Disney requires their blockbuster movies to run three weeks and charge more if another company’s movie is shown along with the Disney movie.
Children’s movies bring in the most customers to the drive-in, so they have a better chance of being chosen.
Not only do the Doughtys work hard at the drive-in everyday, each has a full-time job. There is a lot of work that goes into running a drive-in, such as ordering, shopping, scheduling, picking up poles people drive over and so on. The two don’t take a wage for their work there.
After spending time in the ticket booth, I went over to see the projector room. The projector, containing a 6,000-watt ball, is on a timer, so everything can run smoothly. It gives off a lot of heat and requires an air conditioner and dehumidifier in the room as well. This was interesting to see.
I then spent some time at the concessions. Starview’s concession stand is considered a restaurant, which requires a sales tax. The Doughtys pay this, so customers aren’t charged extra.
Another customer advantage is those who bring in outside food or drink, purchase a food voucher (a requirement for those who want to bring in food) and are then given a coupon for a free popcorn.
Not charging this fee would be a disservice to the Doughtys because they have to pay for the trash that comes from outside food and drinks brought to the drive-in, so it makes sense. I’ll be honest, when I first heard this rule, I was a little annoyed and didn’t understand it. Now I realize it’s not much of an inconvenience; they are even nice enough to throw in free popcorn.
The line is longest before the movie and during intermission, but the staff worked as a team to take care of everyone. Cheryl Doughty and I worked in the back room, bagging fries and making sure each bag of fries was 11 ounces so each customer received a fair amount. This helped the process of getting the line down to be smoother because the fries were ready to be finished and served. They went quick.
The crew was friendly and welcoming to me. Everyone working stayed very busy, cleaning in free moments and keeping items stocked. I thought the team did very well dealing with the rush of customers trying to get food without missing part of the movie.
In addition to the positions of cashier and popcorn distributer, there is also a runner and an opener and closer within the concession department, but each employee can help out with other tasks if needed. There is also someone who cleans the lot and the bathrooms in the mornings. The Doughtys do the rest of the work the drive-in needs.
Norwalk’s Starview is one of the few single-owned, single-screen drive-in’s left. Ohio has 24 drive-ins remaining, according to driveinmovie.com. Our local drive-in opened Oct. 1, 1949, making this its 70th operating season.
About 330 operating drive-in theaters remain. This may seem like plenty, but this number is down from the 4,000 drive-ins operating during the 1950s.
One fun fact about our town’s drive-in is it’s on its third screen. The first one burnt down and the second blew over. I hope the third is here to stay.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The “Mad about…” series involves day-in-the-life stories about local workers. The Reflector’s Madeline Roche spends time doing their jobs and then tells readers what it's like. If you would like your business to be featured, call 419-668-3771 or email email@example.com.
Position: Starview Drive-In employee
Qualifications: Must be 16 or older, have a driver’s license and a vehicle, and the motivation to work
Pay range: Starts at minimum wage ($8.55 per year), plus a bonus for each year.