I first went to Chuck E. Cheese in 1981, when a restaurant in the chain opened a mile from my house. Though I wasn’t a kid anymore, I still got a kick from the combination or pizza and video games. It closed a few years later, and haven’t been in a Chuck E. Cheese since, but I’ve seen them elsewhere, so I know the franchise is alive and well. Now I hear that that fights in Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, usually between grown-ups, are generating a surprising number of calls to police stations. Here’s how an article in the Wall Street Journal put it:
In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Officers have been called to break up 12 fights, some of them physical, at the child-oriented pizza parlor since January 2007. The biggest melee broke out in April, when an uninvited adult disrupted a child’s birthday party. Seven officers arrived and found as many as 40 people knocking over chairs and yelling in front of the restaurant’s music stage, where a robotic singing chicken and the chain’s namesake mouse perform.
Chuck E. Cheese’s bills itself as a place “where a kid can be a kid.” But to law-enforcement officials across the country, it has a more particular distinction: the scene of a surprising amount of disorderly conduct and battery among grown-ups.
“The biggest problem is you have a bunch of adults acting like juveniles,” says Town of Brookfield Police Capt. Timothy Imler. “There’s a biker bar down the street, and we rarely get calls there.”
It isn’t clear exactly how often fights break out at Chuck E. Cheese’s 538 locations. Richard Huston, executive vice president of marketing for the chain’s parent company, CEC Entertainment Inc. of Irving, Texas, describes their occurrence as “atypical,” saying he has heard of “four or five significant adult altercations” this year. But in some cities, law-enforcement officials say the number of disruptions at their local outlet is far higher than at nearby restaurants, and even many bars. “We’ve had some unfortunate and unusual altercations between adults at these locations,” Mr. Huston says. “Even one is just way too many.”
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Why the violent behavior in a place designed like a playground for kids? Some say it’s just the combination of kids and parents who don’t know how to behave. Others say the environment brings out a “Mama Bear Syndrome” in the parents, where they are more protective of their children than usual. The Wall Street Journal suggested that it may be because 70 percent of the restaurants also serve beer and wine, so they do have a theory!
Whatever the reason, it tells me that truth can be stranger than humor. A few years ago, Tim Wilson, a comedian from Columbus, GA, did a song called “Chuck E. Cheese Hell,” where a bouncer in one of the restaurants is so miserable that he wishes he was back in Vietnam. Who’d have thought that joke would come true?