Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hot dog stand? It could have been a Chuck E Cheese

The Wall Street Journal looks at the violence and mayhem the giant pizza-serving rodent brings to Brookfield.
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."

I've never been a big fan of Chuck E Cheese. Regardless of the location, the MO is the same. The machines dispense tickets as rewards for good play, and then the tickets can be taken to the service counter to be converted to cheap prizes. The machines that dispense the most tickets are those that are designed to get the most game tokens from your child as quickly as possible. The more fun games dispense less tickets.

If you're seeing a parallel with a Las Vegas slot machine parlor, you would be right. Instead of teaching children to dispense their game tokens in longer-lasting fun games, the process encourages them to effectively gamble in the higher-stakes machines to get better crap from behind the counter.

We're creating a bunch of degenerate gamblers and we don't even get a decent buffet comp. Instead the parents are encouraged to buy poorly-made pizza and expensive drinks for the kids. Frequently add a birthday cake for an additional sugar rush. Add the kids' adrenaline (gambler's high) the parents' frustrations, the airport-level of noise pollution, the occasional disagreements that all children will have, and throw a little beer for the adults into the mix.

Anybody who has been to a casino knows there are always unhappy people there, usually short a few game tokens in their bucket. If tension can spill over there, add the pressure of watching their kid blow twenty game tokens to end up with only five game tickets. Then if the kid accidentally leaves one of them in the machine, look out.

If a Milwaukee mom can give her son a gun to go settle an argument on a playground basketball court, what do you think is going to happen in the pressure cooker I just described?

As the Wall Street Journal article makes clear, the problem is hardly limited to the Brookfield and the Milwaukee locations. Violent incidents are a nation-wide problem for the Chuck E Cheese business. But it's worth noting that since the Brookfield franchise instituted rules of dress and conduct and stopped alchohol sales that they have not had any incidents. Yet.