Dear Chuck E. Cheese:
First, let me praise you for being almost everything a kid could want in an indoor playspace: tons of arcade games, a party space, familiar food and trinkets to take home at the end of the day. And you're a godsend for us parents on a weekend or rainy day after books, sticker-intensive crafts and rounds of Monopoly Jr. have been exhausted.
But you're not perfect. (Hey, who is?) If you want to earn your place as the all-time favorite destination of families everywhere, you'll need to make a few little tweaks. Take it from a mom who knows - these improvements will boost your parent-cred so much you'll have to put velvet ropes in front of your door.
Reconsider your mascot. Outrageous, I know. But let's face it: The mouse market was cornered long ago, and to much more successful effect. You think corporate symbol, Mickey's your rodent. And why not? He's fun, he's an established actor - and he looks nothing like an actual mouse. CEC, on the other hand, is uncomfortably realistic, down to the gray fur, pointy nose and buck teeth. You halfway expect to find little Chuck E. Droppings on your pizza plate. Then there's the whole mixed-message problem. Chuck's depicted as an athlete who skateboards and surfs his way through his commercials - all in the name of enticing kids to sit in front of video screens, devouring fries and ice cream. I'm sure you can find a more appropriate spokesperson. Why not let plump, goofy Mr. Munch take center stage instead?
Lose the animatronics. Speaking of stages, the CEC arena isn't exactly Madison Square Garden. The Disney parks give us beautiful replicas of presidents, pirates and haunted-house ghosts, with movements so lifelike they probably let loose with a belch when no one's looking. You, on the other hand, can only offer a clunky robotic "band" that jerks and clacks their mouths out of sync with the corny patter and music videos playing on the video screens. Their clothes are faded, their polyester fur matted in spots from too much touching by curious young visitors. Between sets, their eyes eerily shift from side to side - clack, clack - as if to catch someone cheating at skee-ball. They don't offer original music, interact with the kids or do anything to enhance the experience. So retire them to the Smithsonian and put something more useful in its space, like a walled-off coffee bar or spa where the moms can duck in when the din of beeping machinery and squealing first-graders gets to us.
Give us real pizza. Is Chef Pasqually too busy pretending to play his fake drums to get his rear into the kitchen and put together a decent pie? When we spend an afternoon at a playspace/restaurant, the last thing we need is to endure an assembly-line pizza that looks like it contains more artificial ingredients than a Kardashian sister. Shell out a few extra tokens for fresh mozzarella, a simple homemade sauce, locally grown veggies and imported pepperoni and make Chuck E.'s a destination pizzeria. We parents feel guilty enough about coming here more often than we do art museums or matinees of The Magic Flute. Let us have the satisfaction of saying, "At least we get to enjoy a fabulous margherita pie!" (While you're at it, give your chef the dignity of a true Italian name. Pasquale, please.)
Spare us the crappy low-end prizes. The average family with preschool- or school-age children has approximately 847 tiny tops, cartoon tattoos, clacker hands, crayon four-packs, vampire fangs, rhinestone rings, plastic parachuting soldiers, suction poppers and those miniature tubs of slimy goo that make a fart noise when you press your thumb into them. Every single one of those toys is now either lying under a sofa cushion, gathering dust under a bed, languishing on the minivan floor or hidden in the corner of a purse ("Here, Mom, can you hold this while I play another game?"). Trust me when I say that we don't need any more. Neither do the landfills where they inevitably end up. But the "better" prizes like dolls and electronics come with a price tag of 1,000 tickets or more - and when games give you only three or four tickets per play, it's hard to earn enough without emptying your wallet.
Do us a favor. Either adjust your machines to dispense more tickets per play, or give us something good for our 200 tickets. More tokens, maybe. Or donate a few bucks to help children who have more problems in their lives than a lost slap bracelet.
Two words: open bar. 'Nuff said.
I guess that's it for now. Please give these suggestions some thought. Next time I visit one of your fine establishments, I'll be keeping my eyes open for them. Clack-clack.
Love and kisses,
Mom E. Speriment