Imagine we are in a movie theater. The people in the row behind us are talking to each other. Or, perhaps the person next to us is sending and reading texts distracting us from being able to focus on the big screen.  

What are our options? We can attempt to ignore what is happening or say something. Then what? Perhaps the other person stops. Or, maybe an argument ensues, ruining the movie for more people. 

How bad does it have to get for you to say something? Priya Parker asks in her terrific book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.

Alamo Drafthouse, the Austin, Texas-based movie chain, offers a different course of action. If another guest is disruptive, we can simply write a note on the food order card, and the theater will take care of it. “The waiters deliver on the promise by serving as enforcers. I can attest that they do their job,” notes Priya. 

“Someone there seems to have realized that other theaters outsource the role of enforcer to their patrons, which is a role a paying customer should not have to play,” writes Priya. “And so when you watch a film at the Alamo, you see an announcement that warns you not to text or talk during the show, which many theaters have.” 

What happens next is what makes Alamo unique: Disruptive guests are given one warning. The next time, they are ejected.  

“When you are in a cinema, you are one of many, many people in the auditorium,” says Alamo CEO Tim League. “When the lights go dark and the movie begins, every single movie fan in the room wants to be absorbed into and get lost in the flickering images on the screen. A light from a cellphone, a screaming baby or a disruptive teen cracking jokes all pull you out of the magic of the movies. Providing an awesome experience for true movie fans is the reason we opened the first Alamo Drafthouse back int he mid-90s, and it is the exact same philosophy we adhere to today.”

Alamo’s practice exemplifies what Priya calls “generous authority.” Which is the opposite of “being chill.” 

“Let me declare my bias outright. “Chill” is a miserable attitude when it comes to hosting gatherings,” she writes. “The chill approach to hosting is all too often about hosts attempting to wriggle out of the burden of hosting. In gatherings, once your guests have chosen to come into your kingdom, they want to be governed—gently, respectfully, and well. . . Often, chill is you caring about you masquerading as you caring about them.”

In contrast, “generous authority” is about hosting with a strong, confident hand. It is about imposing in a way that serves our guests. At the core of this approach is running the event for the sake of others.  

Which is precisely what Alamo does. One guest who was removed from the theater for texting left an angry voicemail: “I’ve texted in all the other theaters in Austin and no one ever gave a f***. . . You guys, obviously, were being a******* to ME.” She went on and on, ending with, “And I’m pretty sure you’re being an a****** on purpose. So thanks for making me feel like a customer! Thanks for taking my money, a******!” 

The company turned the voicemail into an advertisement ending with “Thanks for not coming back to the Alamo, TEXTER!” 

The ad went viral.


Reflection: Do I tend to show up as a “chill” host, or do I practice “generous authority”? Are there opportunities in my business to apply these ideas?

Action: Discuss with my spouse or a peer. 

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