With more Americans opting to stay home for their entertainment, what's a movie theater owner to do to lure people out of their living rooms?
The answer these days: booze and food.
Nationally, movie ticket revenue and sales decreased last year from 2013, according to the Motion Picture Association of America's Theatrical Statistics Report for 2014.
At the same time, instant streaming companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video keep getting more popular. Netflix members, for example, streamed 10 billion hours of content and added 4.9 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2015, according to the company's letter to investors, showing how much people are binge watching from their homes.
It's that pressure that's forcing theaters to change, said Matthew Viragh, founder and executive director of the Nighthawk Cinema in Brooklyn.
"The theatrical experience hasn't really evolved over a long period time," said Viragh. "But now, with these emerging competitive services at home, the movie industry has to kind of look in the mirror and re-evaluate how they're doing things."
Making pressures even more intense, 82 percent of consumers are willing to pay more than the cost of a night out—$10 to $20 more—to watch a newly released movie at home, according to a study by Price Waterhouse Coopers.
To compete with entertainment that people can enjoy on their couches, Viragh said the cinema industry is going boutique, thinking about better food and drink and more comfortable seating.
The Nighthawk Cinema, which worked to change the New York state liquor law to allow theaters to offer alcohol, serves dinner and drinks with indie movies.
"We try to have fun with food and drink specials that are inspired by [the film being shown]," he said. "We're creating more of a night out and a bigger experience around that movie."
Austin, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas' focus on customers' experiences has enabled the company to lay plans to expand.
The franchise offers dinner along with movies that include '80s classics, cult favorites, blockbusters, and notably, the controversial Sony movie "The Interview" last year. Aside from movies, Alamo Drafthouse hosts a variety of events, including "Master Pancake," where mockable movies are paired with live comedy and alcohol.
The company operates 19 theaters, but by next summer, it will have 30 across the country.
Founder and CEO Tim League said when he started the company he knew he wanted to change the experience of going to the movies.
"I came at this with an outsider perspective, and a frustrated perspective," League said. "We don't show ads before movies,we're very strict about no texting and talking during movies. From the very get go those were very basic things we did that annoyed me about going to the cinema."
He said offering food along with the movie instead of just candy and popcorn has been a part of his model for a long time, and a way to compete.
"I'm a dad now, I really understand the need to be efficient," he said. "If you can crush together dinner and a movie, you're a step ahead."
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Some big national chains have the same idea.
AMC Theaters is adding bars and hot food at concession stands, and theaters that serve dinner, spokesman Ryan Noonan said.
Noonan said almost a third of AMC theaters now have a bar called "MacGuffins."
"It's proved to be extremely popular," he said. "We now have over 100 MacGuffins across the United States. We're continuing to roll them out."
At concession stands, customers will be able to find options like chicken tenders, pizza, french fries, mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers, Noonan said.
Motion picture association spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said she thinks the cinema industry is innovating, and year-to-year data about box office sales do not represent the industry as a whole.
"I don't think you can draw extended trend lines when attendance is so dependent on which films are out," she said.
League said the release of the new "Star Wars: Episode VII" and other expected summer blockbusters, 2015 will see a bounce back.
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