Pros: Fun place for kids; Security person at the door checks hand stamp
Cons: Bland pizza; Noisy; Often very crowded
Restaurant chains are generally designed and geared toward young to middle- aged adults. For most of us, when asked to name our favorite restaurant, we would likely select a place with a little more mature theme (if any theme at all) and/or that serves some specialty food that we just cant live without. For myself, it would be hard to select one individual favorite, but the criteria usually includes a casual, sports- oriented atmosphere and tasty, moderately priced food and an assortment of beer.
For children, the choices in restaurants are limited since most of the sit- down style restaurants cater to older clientele. But one exception is Chuck E. Cheese, a restaurant chain that was designed with young kids in mind. This chain was founded by Nolan Bushnell (the same man who invented Atari video games) who opened the first Chuck E. Cheese in San Jose, California, in 1977. The chain has been shuffled around through various ownership arrangements and today there are more than 400 locations in the United States and Canada.
As everyone knows who has visited Chuck E. Cheese, the most popular item on the menu is pizza. You can purchase pizza in three sizes (small, medium, and large) and there are a few specialty pizzas to choose from, like super combo, vegetarian, barbecue chicken, and an all- meat combo. Or, you can just order your pizza plain and select your own toppings.
If youre not in the mood for pizza, Chuck E. Cheese does offer a few other menu selections, like appetizers (buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, bread sticks, or fries), submarine sandwiches (grilled chicken, ham and cheese, or Italian), or hot dogs. They also have a salad bar and a few desserts, like cotton candy, brownies, cookies, and (of course) cake.
Orders are places at the walk- up counter. You are given a plastic stand with a number, indicating your order, which you then place on your table. When the food is ready, a waiter/waitress will bring the order to your table.
Beverages are served at an all you can drink beverage bar. You can select among such choices as soda pop, iced tea, coffee, hot tea, milk, etc. There are a few other drinks, too, like bottled water and draft beer for the grown- ups, but these will cost you more if you decide you need a refill.
Atmosphere is the primary reason young guests flock to Chuck E. Cheese! The entire design of the place is centered around kids. The interior of the restaurant holds about 250 people, with about half the floor space utilized by seating and the other half covered by various types of electronic games. In the seating area, Chuck E. Cheese has one wall that includes video screens with non- stop music. But this music is not of the VH-1 or MTV variety. Instead, the music features well- known tunes from the past and present, performed and sung by Chuck E. Cheese characters, both on video and as robotic figures. There is constant music, even when the inside of the restaurant isnt very full (which is a rarity, anyway). And you often get to witness the live entertainment provided by the staff and Chuck E. Cheese mascot, who sometimes join forces with the young kids and dance to the music. Theres also a video camera directed toward the stage area that allows kids to see themselves on the big screen.
The games section is as much (if not more) a part of the Chuck E. Cheese experience as the food and musical entertainment. Most patrons begin by eating a meal of pizza, breadsticks, etc., and then head over to the games area to spend some money and win prizes. You first have to purchase tokens, to play the games, which normally sell for 25 cents each. If you buy in bulk, you can often get a better deal. For example, at the location nearest to me, they have offers like 㦞 tokens for $10.00 or tokens for $20. This can help to stretch the money a little further.
As you play games at Chuck E. Cheese, you are awarded with tickets, based on how well you do. The games vary in their risk/reward combination. If you decide to play skeeball (most every Chuck E. Cheese offers skeeball), for example, you can expect to win at least a few tickets, but your chances for winning a large number are slim (unless youre really good at it!). With other games, the payoff is more boom or bust. You could easily get no tickets at all for your token, or you could hit the jackpot and walk away with two hundred or more, from a single token.
Once you are finished playing games, your tickets can then be exchanged at the counter for prizes. Chuck E. Cheese varies the ticket exchange value from very low (as little as 10) to very high (5,000 or more). Most of the toys and small gadgets you can get with your tickets are cheap and not worth much money. But the little ones dont seem to care. They act like they have just won a contest, when it comes time to cash in the tickets.
Food prices at Chuck E. Cheese are moderate. A large pizza with two toppings will set you back about $12.00, which isnt too bad for a sit- down restaurant. Beverages will cost you about $1.50 each, but that includes unlimited refills. Where the real expense comes into play, at Chuck E. Cheese, is with the buying of tokens. Depending on how long you plan to stay, you can quickly go through $20, $30, even $50 dollars or more by purchasing game tokens, which sell for 25 cents each. Even buying in bulk (while it can save you money) will still not prevent the purchase of tokens from taking its toll on your wallet.
Many families who visit Chuck E. Cheese choose one of the value packages. These include pizza, tokens, and soft drinks at a discounted price. It can help save money and its a good idea for those who plan on eating and playing games (which is almost everyone who enters the place!). And, of course, there are also birthday package deals to buy. Birthday celebrations are very popular at Chuck E. Cheese. The restaurant requires that you make a reservation for a birthday party, which you can do by phone or on- line. If you decide to go into the internet to make a reservation, you can also download and print out invitations, or send invitations by e-mail. A birthday package includes pizza, soft drinks, tokens, cake, balloons & cotton candy (for the birthday boy/girl), and a special visit from the store mascot, Chuck E. Cheese.
Chuck E. Cheese is a popular place for families to celebrate birthdays and/or to enjoy some time together and play games. The majority of guests are there for birthday celebrations, so its common to see tables covered in birthday garb with unfinished cake, pizza, and glasses of pop all over the place. Its often very loud, too, with kids running free all over the place, music playing, and electronic games buzzing while anxious youngsters test their skill and try to win tickets and prizes.
For adults, Chuck E. Cheese doesnt offer much that we would consider exciting. Like I stated above, most of us choose our favorite restaurants based on some delicious food and/or adult- oriented atmosphere combination. With Chuck E. Cheese, you do get atmosphere, but its not the type that most adults would seek out. Its the type of atmosphere that we dont mind every now and then, to keep the kids happy, but we would probably not choose it on our own.
Now, lets talk about the food. Chuck E. Cheese is best known for its pizza, mainly because its part of every birthday package and because, well, its the type of food kids invariably choose when they eat here. As far as pizza goes, lets just say that Chuck E. Cheese is tolerable. Its very bland and lacking in flavor, from the meat to the cheese to the sauce. Its just a step above a bad frozen pizza, like Totinos. I can handle it, but Im always happy when the event is over and I can get away and think about eating something tasty (One word of advice: avoid eating reheated Chuck E. Cheese pizza- it makes frozen Jenos pizza seem like a delicacy). Chuck E. Cheese doesnt put much effort into the quality of the pizza, I assume because the restaurant caters to kids and kids are not all that picky about the flavor of pizza.
I have only eaten a few other foods at Chuck E. Cheese. I have had the cheese sticks (plain, boring) and fries (nothing special, forgettable). But I have never eaten a sandwich or a salad, so I cant comment on the quality of these food items. Every time I have gone, it has been for someones birthday and everyone in the party wants pizza. So I have never really had the opportunity to try any of the other main dishes. And I think its safe to say that I wont be stopping at Chuck E. Cheese on my own, for a casual dinner, and I wont be taking a date here (Hey baby, feel like stopping at Chuck E. Cheese tonight for a rockin round of air hockey?). So, the chances that I will ever get to try one of the sandwiches are slim to none. I could try to insist on sandwiches the next time Im invited to a gathering here, but who am I to spoil a party?
Some parents worry at Chuck E. Cheese about their kids safety. With so many young bodies running all over the place, parents are often concerned that someone might try to kidnap a child. To help ease the fears of the public, Chuck E. Cheese now stamps the hands of each family that enters, with each family member getting an identical stamp. Then, when an adult leaves with a child, a person at the door checks the stamps to make sure they match. If you show up or leave without any kids, you will not get stamped and you do not need to show your stamp to exit.
The prize redemption at Chuck E. Cheese could be a little better, I think. Kids who play the games usually dont do all that well, and they end up not getting many tickets. The prizes available for a small number of tickets are pretty pathetic. Something as simple as a plastic bracelet (which probably costs about 10 cents to manufacture) requires about 20 tickets. It could easily take a kid $2.00 or more (8 tokens) to get the necessary tickets to exchange for this prize. Fortunately, for Chuck E. Cheese, young children dont know or care about the principles of economic exchange. Any prize they get seems to make them happy, regardless of the size of the prize or the number of tickets needed to get it.
Its always a good idea to order a package deal when you visit a place like Chuck E. Cheese. Even if you think you wont need any more tokens, you will almost certainly be proven wrong. The kids in your party will come running to you after about 30 minutes or so, begging for more tokens. Its best to just purchase a package deal and take advantage of coupon offers to get the most tokens possible. Dont worry about buying too many- you will have no problem using them up! If you dont have any coupons, you can print them directly from the company web site (www.chuckecheese.com). I have used coupons from this site that offered 28 free tokens ($7.00 worth) with the purchase of a large pizza. Its a good way to save a little money or to stretch out your dollars a little further.
Chuck E. Cheese is a fun place for young kids to join together with family and friends for pizza and games. It appeals primarily to kids under 13. As youngsters reach adolescent age, the coolness of Chuck E. Cheese slowly begins to fade. Teenagers start to view Chuck E. Cheese more like an adult does. They start to perceive it as a place with bland food thats loud and overflowing with the scent of young children. Some teens will still go, as part of a family gathering (just dont tell my friends, ok?), but they would never choose Chuck E. Cheese as a place to hang out on a Friday or Saturday night. And for older people, Chuck E. Cheese can get a little overbearing at times. With all the noise and chaos, even non- drinking adults could find themselves gazing longingly at the beer tap behind the counter.
If I had to rate Chuck E. Cheese based on food, the restaurant would get 1 or 2 stars. But if you take the overall experience into account- the food, the atmosphere, the games, the prizes, the music, and the entertainment- Chuck E. Cheese gets a passing grade. Young kids think its the experience of a lifetime, and most of them would award Chuck E. Cheese a 5- star rating, if they were given the chance to compose a review. And thats really the reason why we go to Chuck E. Cheese anyway. It may not be the best restaurant in terms of food quality or adult entertainment, and it may be a little too noisy and juvenile for the taste of most adults, but little kids love the place. And seeing a smile on the faces of the little ones makes Chuck E. Cheese worth the trip!
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