Chuck E. Cheese's

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Skye had a Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Party ... and I maintained my sanity!

Nov 22, 2002 (Updated Nov 22, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Kids enjoy the games/prizes, food is edible, good salad bar, several Birthday Party Options

Cons:Fairly expensive for mediocre pizza, can be very crowded & noisy

The Bottom Line: From my kids perspective Chuck E. Cheese deserves a 5-star rating ... from mine about a 3 ... so we'll compromise and give it a 4-star rating!

This will be a combination restaurant and birthday party facility review. Which will probably be heavy on the 'birthday party' end of things, since there isn't a lot to say restaurant-wise. I may be less harsh on Chuck E. Cheese than some reviews, simply because my kids love the place, I don't mind it as an occasional treat, and our closest location is a fairly new, very well maintained, and almost spotlessly clean facility. I know not all Chuck E. Cheese restaurants are of the same caliber, so I certainly am not trying to speak for anyone else's local unit of this chain.

Until her 5th birthday, Princess Skye has been happy with a small family birthday celebration with grandparents and cousins to play with ... and/or a fairly simple themed birthday party at her daycare or school. I've always made her cakes ... and the past several have been very similar ... a yellow cake mix tinted pink with food coloring, iced in pretty pink fluff, and decorated with either a small Barbie toy or a Barbie cake decorating kit from the store. Fairly crude, since I'm no cake decorating expert ... but beautiful in her eyes.

But having attended at least one elaborate birthday party pretty much every month for the past two years, Skye outgrew the cake at snacktime at school routine. I didn't mind, I was ready to have a larger party for her, nothing over the top - no costumed Aladin & Jasmine with live monkeys performing, no rides in scale model Nascar racers, and no private movie showing at the local theater (and yes, we've been to a few of those) - but something a bit more than cake, juice boxes, and 99 cent store party favors. After considering reasonable local options ... Burger King, Chick-fil-a, the gymnastics center, and the like ... Skye decided on Chuck E. Cheese.

At first I was *NOT* thrilled. Visions of wall to wall screaming brats, loud music, beeping-honking-tweeting games, and 8 parties going on at once on a Saturday afternoon filled my head. But wanting to make my daughters first 'big' party everything she was hoping for, I set out on a quest to research the monster known as the Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Party. I almost choked on my gum when I saw the $9.99 per person price tag on Chuck's basic birthday package!!!! I'm a math person and a penny pincher ... it didn't take long to calculate $9.99 times 10 friends, or 20 classmates, or god forbid even more if we invite all the cousins!!!

What would we get for our $10 per person ... not much!!!!

*2 slices of 1 toping pizza
*1 slice birthday cake
*child size drink
*20 tokens (the most important part to the kids)
*A personal visit with Chuck E. Cheese

The website also touts these additional items in their 'what you get' page ... all of which only emphasized my feeling of being schnookered ...

* A personal party host - i.e. waitress/waiter/server ... uhmm, doesn't someone always bring out your pizza? Do we need them to put it on the plates too?
* A festive and colorfully decorated table - well, where else would we eat our pizza and cake? On the floor?
* Your table is reserved for your party for 90 minutes - Ohhh Weee! We get a 'reserved' sign!!!!
* A Chuck E. Cheese collectable cup, balloon and cotton candy for the birthday child - just what we need to make the other 10-20 kids wonder why they didn't get one!

And now for ONLY $5 MORE per person, we could get the Super party package and add:

* 12 additional game tokens per guest ... COOL! You can never have too many tokens!
* A cool goody bag for each guest ... half filled with penny candy and the 1-2 ticket game prizes
* 500 free tickets for the birthday child and 100 free tickets per guest ... so they can get more junk prizes without even having the fun of playing the games!

So ... $14.99 per guest for a decent but nothing extravagant party? I'm sorry, maybe I'm a cheapskate, and I'm sure things aren't as expensive here in rural Georgia as they are in Chicago or New York or somewhere ... but no way was I going to pay $15 per 4-5 year old child for as little as this!

{In all fairness, I do have to say that I know some of the things I've scoffed at, may actually be somewhat beneficial and some parents will find them worth the cost ... a decorated table would save me having to buy a table cloth and party plates, etc. ... a hostess would theoretically allow mom not to have to serve each guest, and would probably do most of the cleaning up afterwards. But honestly, in my family and social circle ... the moms end up pitching in and seeing that all the kids get food or cake or drinks ... and we tend to clean up fairly well after ourselves EVEN if the facility includes cleaning as part of their package. We wouldn't want to leave the place in a mess ... oh my.}

Mommy wheels started turning ... I wanted Skye to have the party she wanted, but I didn't want to spend a fortune, and I wasn't happy with what the Chuckster was offering me. So we planned our own PowerPuff Girl/Chuck E. Cheese party!!!

With a simple phone call, I found out that our local Chuck E. Cheese has no rules against having your own party if you don't purchase their package. They don't offer you any extra services, and they don't guarantee you a space, but they certainly will allow you to bring in a cake, etc. and have a party if you want to.

Here's what we did:

1. Planned the party on a Tuesday evening! Ohhhhh unbelievable ... a birthday party on a school night? Yep! Take it or leave it! This allowed us to NOT have to deal with the crowds, noise level and possible table shortage of a hectic Saturday or Sunday afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese. And most families I know either dine out or have social activities at least a few nights a week anyway, so the weeknight instead of weekend thing just didn't seem like a huge problem to me. If they don't want to attend a birthday party on a weeknight, no problem we certainly understood ... if they do want to, then we're thrilled to have them join us.

2. Skye picked out Power Puff Girls table decorations at our local Big Lots - paper table cloths, plates, napkins, and noise-maker blower thingies ... all for about 1/2 of what they'd been last year at Target or Walmart.

3. I decided to forgo the annual cake making effort and purchased a Power Puff Girls cake at our local Publix. I could have saved a good $15 or more by making it myself, but the time/money swayed me to buying a cake this year.

4. I had no idea how many kids to expect, so the plan was to purchase two of the Pizza and 4-drink combos, and then purchase additional ones as needed. I asked that the pizzas be cut in smaller wedges since 5 year olds don't generally eat all that much anyway and I could always order more if needed. It ended up that the two pizzas were more than adequate for our group, and I just purchased several extra drink cups. I also ordered a couple of orders of fries, which made nice munchies while we were waiting for everyone to arrive.

5. We split up the tokens that came with our pizza combos, and bought and extra $10 worth to make sure everyone had plenty. Chuck E Cheese will provide token cups upon request.

I arrived at the restaurant 1/2 hour before party time ... decorated our table in the nearly empty restaurant, ordered our food about 15 minutes before party time, and had EVERYTHING ready and waiting as the guests arrived. We ate pizza, sang Happy Birthday, ate cake, opened presents hurriedly ... and then (the moment they'd impatiently waited for) ... the kids headed off to play games to their hearts content! Whew!

So ... dollar for dollar ... I'm honestly not certain that I saved a lot of money. We ended up spending about $60 on food, $20 on a cake, and maybe $15 on decorations (though if you were really pinching pennies, you could use the CEC plates and napkins and not have a table cloth). We didn't have a personal visit to our table by a costumed Chuck E. Cheese but the kids didn't seem to notice. We saw the automated show with the Chuckster and his band several many times during the evening. However, what we did have was WAY more cake than the tiny 8" round one that CEC provides, enough pizza for most of the grown ups to have a slice after the kids were through, fries as munchies ahead of time, and more tokens!!!!

If your child is interested in a Chuck E. Cheese you can check out their party packages, find the location nearest you, and get additional information at their website at - and you'll receive $5 worth of free tokens if you book your party on-line. But you aren't happy with their package, I would urge you to give your local restaurant a call and find out what their policy is on unofficial parties. You may find that a do-it-yourself party fits the bill.

Now for the general restaurant/food part of the review ...

Chuck E. Cheese's pizza is edible. It isn't the worst I've ever had, it isn't the best I've ever had. It's a medium crust that is neither thin and crispy, but definitely isn't a pan pizza. I've never been behind the scenes, so I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing they get 'ready to use' pizza crusts from their supplier ... already baked but not browned ... and don't actually make, toss or stretch dough themselves. The topping selection is your basic chain restaurant fair. You won't find sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, or artichoke hearts here ... but you can get the standards such as pepperoni, beef, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives. I don't know the exact pizza prices, but I know that my family of four can usually have pizza, drinks and game tokens for between $25-$30. Not cheap but not terribly expensive for an occasional treat.

Chuck E. Cheese also offers a few alternatives to pizza such as hot dogs (at some locations) and sub sandwiches. Appetizer or snack selections include mozzarella sticks, fries, buffalo wings, and bread sticks. Our local Chuck E. Cheese has a surprisingly good salad bar, it's always well stocked and very fresh. If you don't care for the pizza, you can probably make a reasonable meal from the salad bar and possibly an appetizer selection. I don't think I've ever had a dessert at Chuck E. Cheese but they do offer packaged brownies, cookies, and ice cream bars.

Soft drinks and iced tea ($1.49) include unlimited refills at a self serve station, and wine and beer (around $4) are available for the adults. Some people find it odd that a place targeted at families and children would serve alcoholic beverages, but while I've occasionally seen an adult with a plastic cup of beer or wine, but I've never seen a rowdy or drunken group or individual. I think the consumers who might purchase an adult beverage at Chuck E. Cheese are for the most part, individuals who just enjoy having a drink with their meal, they aren't there to catch a buzz or party hardy. And heck, they'd probably go broke trying, because like everything else on the menu, the beer and wine is overpriced for the quality, or lack there of.

Pizzas and other food items are delivered to your table by a 'runner' based on the number table placard you are given when you order, and service is pretty much self-serve. The staff at our local Chuck E. Cheese is reasonably friendly and helpful, but they truly are not 'waiters' or 'waitresses'. They'll leave your food, drop off plates and plastic ware, and you're on your own. If you need something, flag one down, ask, and they'll provide it if they can. Trash cans are provided throughout the restaurants and my family usually throws away our plates napkins and cups leaving our table relatively clean. The staff will then bus the empty table and wipe it down. I've seen other diners leave everything on the table for the staff to clean, but with the trash receptacles provided, and the general 'fast food' feel of the place, I just don't feel right doing that.

Some people have ranted about the unsafe concept of a place full of kids as a haven for sick individuals with an unhealthy interest in children. I can't join that rant. My opinion is ... be a responsible parent. Stay with your child, take young ones to the restroom don't send them on their own. Insist that older children (you can determine your own age specifications here) check in with your occasionally if you don't feel you need to accompany them to each and every game. If your local Chuck E. Cheese seems to be a seedy place filled with undesirable characters, then by all means avoid it. But if it's like ours, I feel safe there, and while I do take Skye to the restroom and accompany her around the game room ... I don't feel creepy or at risk doing so. I keep an eye on David, but I don't feel a need to be by his side every moment. He's still fairly young, but he's a hulk of a football playing boy ... taller, larger and probably stronger than some of my adult friends. He knows to kick, yell, scream, fight and make a scene if anyone ever approaches him for the wrong reasons. I watch for him to come out of the restroom, but I don't feel a need to accompany him or stand by the door.

All in all, while Chuck E. Cheese is not most adult's idea of a great night on the town, and I wouldn't want to go there every week, I certainly don't mind taking the kids for an occasional treat. Chuck E. Cheese also does a 'Tokens for Grades' reward program ... giving school aged children 4 game tokens for each As and three for each B (and I think maybe even one token for C's) that they earn on their report card.

Recommend this product? Yes

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