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.