What is better than a giant animatronic mouse and his band singing happy birthday while a dozen kids chow down on mediocre pizza? What is more exciting than racking up points to earn tiny plastic trinkets that will break by tomorrow while parents stand nearby drinking draft beer?
After years of falling sales as they try to compete with trampoline parks that spring up in any abandoned warehouse, Chuck E. Cheese is making a hyper-stimulating comeback. A concerted rebranding effort by the company in 2018 — with lowered party prices and unlimited games — has slightly boosted sales and drawn attention back to the chain. That’s good news for the many parents who are revisiting the play space to celebrate their kids’ birthdays. (Chuck E. Cheese did not return multiple requests for comment.) There is nothing millennials love more than ironic old-school nostalgia, after all.
The best part about Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties is that “at the end you send all of those sugar-jacked little monsters home and you walk away from the mess!” says Christine Krauss, a mom of four in Sandusky, Ohio, “Worth every penny.” Krauss notes that the company now serve wine, though the sommelier is of questionable integrity (it’s jugs of Woodbridge).
Krauss is a no-gifts, keep-it-simple-type person when it comes to birthdays, but her 10-year-old daughter requested a Chuck E. Cheese party. Initially skeptical, she says two hours of watching her daughter be as center of attention evangelised her to the experience. “It was like a fantastical dream! You don’t have to do anything! Not even cut and serve the cake!”
There are a myriad of reasons to throw a mouse-based bash- particularly and rural and suburban communities where they may be less options than in a big city. Robin Faber recently moved from New York City to Pittsburgh, and was surprised by how popular Chuck E. Cheese was in the more midwestern city. “Back in New York, people knew about Chuck E. Cheese parties but I don’t know a single person who would have had one. I think it was honestly kind of looked down upon.” She remembers one friend posting a Scary Mommy article about how terrible it was.
As soon as the family moved to Pittsburgh, though, her daughter was invited to one. “It was practically our introduction to the city.” Her kids adored the playspace. They loved the games, the food, and the ambiance. Faber has since had her daughter’s eighth and her son’s fifth birthday there. “It was the best. They took care of everything and I didn’t have to lift a finger,” she recalls of her son’s party. She has since been to four more parties there. “My New York friends aren’t here to judge, so…”
Chuck is also trying to reach a wider audience of kids. A sensory-friendly birthday party package with less stimulation — tuned down music and lights — is available at 10 a.m. on weekends. Parents are frustrated at the lack of time options for this specific package, but have checked out the space during those times and found it to be tolerable for their sensitive kids.
Sheryl Little of Rochester, New York, just booked her first Chuck E. Cheese party for her daughter Sarah, who was turning 6. Sarah has a rare genetic condition called partial Trisomy 15, which leaves her nonverbal and with a range of medical needs. Sarah had tagged along to a previous Chuck E. Cheese trip for her brother, and was enthralled with the lights and sounds. What might be over-stimulating for some kids was perfect for her. She also adored the ride-on games. Little was pleased with how the party host worked to accommodate their family’s unique needs.
“They let my son go in the ticket-blowing booth with her because she would not have known what to do,” she says. “We did the cheapest package, and all the kids still had a great time.”
Bottom line is this: If you want to throw a picture-perfect coordinated party with your own handmade banners and centerpieces, and hor d'oeuvres in the shape of animals, this party is not for you. If you want to show up to a decorated table, have teens serve and clean up as well as corral your children while you actually get to hold adult conversation, run to your nearest Chuck E. Cheese and book a party today. Of all the regrettable parenting decisions we all make, this will not be one of them.