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Chuck E. Cheese’s Leaking Bucket

During the past five years, the Restaurant Marketing Group (RMG) at the ZenMango market research firm has been conducting the Leaky Bucket Survey of 160 different restaurant chains. The survey is conducted each March with more than 5,000 consumers aged 18 to 64 and measures the size of the customer leak or defections, meaning the percentage of recent customers who report they are unlikely to return to a particular eatery. The percentage is based on customers who are less than 50% sure they will return. The lower the score, the better the particular restaurant chain is at retaining customers and creating repeat business. The higher the score, the more customers the restaurant is loosing, and likely, the higher its rate of bad word-of-mouth.

RMG classifies leaks in three categories:
• Moderate Leak: <20% of total customer base leaking • Big Leak: 20%-30% of total customer base leaking • Extreme Leak: >30% of total customer base leaking

During the recession, customers became more discriminatory in their dining-out choices and leaky bucket scores increased. For all restaurants surveyed, in 2008, 29% of customers were unlikely to return. That climbed to 36% in the heart of the recession in 2009, fell to 32% in 2010 and is down to 30% this year.

Chuck E. Cheese’s is one of the restaurant chains surveyed. Their bucket is really full of leaks with 46% of customers in 2011 saying they are unlikely to return, up from 32% in 2008. The 2011 score is 58% higher than the restaurant industry as a whole and is in the extreme leak category according to RMG. Among pizza chains, the next highest leaky bucket score is CiCi’s Pizza at 34%. In fact, it looks as if Chuck E. Cheese’s has the highest leak percentage of any restaurant chain in the survey and is amongst a very small minority who did not improve their leak percentage in 2011.

As I reported in my blog in March, CEC is rolling out a new enhanced pizza with a crispy crust. The dough will be made fresh in the stores and the pizzas will feature real mozzarella cheese in large blocks that will be grated fresh. I would speculate that one reason for CEC’s high leak rate is that parents don’t like their food. We hear this from adults constantly, how bad they think the pizza is. It will be interesting to see if their new pizza results in their leaky bucket score improving next year.

For more about how to fill the holes of a business’ leaky bucket, check out my article, The Only Five Ways to Grow Your Business.

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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