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Parents pan Chuck E. Cheese’s food and experience

Each year National Restaurant News and WD Partners conduct a national Consumer Picks survey of restaurant customers’ top brands. This year’s survey included 42,196 consumer responses on 172 brands, ranking 10 attributes of the dining out experience—atmosphere, cleanliness, craveability, food quality, likely to recommend, likely to return, menu variety, reputation, service and value. The scores for the 10 attributes were then combined to create an overall score for each chain.

This year’s survey rated 111 limited-service restaurant chains and Chuck E. Cheese’s came in dead last among them. CEC had a score of 35.9 compared with the 71.9 score for the category winner, In-N-Out Burger. CEC’s last place rating is consistent with previous year’s ratings.

For years Chuck E. Cheese’s has seen declining same store sales, totally attributable to their declining food and beverage sales. Their average store inflation-adjusted food and beverage sales declined by almost one-half (46%) between 2003 and 2012. A major factor has been the quality and selection of their adult food offerings (or lack thereof). To turn around this decades-long decline, the company’s new owners, Apollo Global Management, recently introduced an “all-new menu for grown-up tastes,” aiming to grow sales by pleasing grown-ups’ palates. They want to become the place where mom can get a cappuccino and dad can chow down on an artisan-like pizza.

The point according to Tom Leverton, chief executive of the parent company, CEC Entertainment Inc., is to recognize that while children drive the desire to visit, it’s the parents who hold the car keys. “We want to make sure the adults are as excited about the visit as the children. The menu was a great opportunity to really do that.,” said Leverton.

Nationwide, CEC rolled out the new menu that includes Cali Alfredo pizza along with an update to its BBQ chicken pizza, now with a smoky barbecue sauce and fried onions. Any pizza on the menu now comes in a “thin and crispy” option. It also has introduced whole-wheat tortilla wraps such as chicken Caesar and a club wrap as well as adding churros with dipping sauces.

We’ll have to wait until next year to learn whether the new menu selections result in Chuck E. Cheese’s gaining favor with adults and winning a higher rating in the Consumer Picks survey and turning around CEC’s long declining food sales.

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 30-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri , has worked for over 550 clients in 36 countries in North and Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Projects the company has 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 experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment, 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 100 articles that have been published in leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker at conventions of over 20 different leisure trade groups. Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter - https://twitter.com/whitehutchinson
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