No, Chuck E. Cheese’s does not serve my favorite food. I don’t sit around all day and think about the care and thought that went into their crust or how inspired the ranch dressing on their salad bar is. They don’t serve haute cuisine….there’s no question about that. Still, as adults who do not have children, Philip and I still eat there on a (fairly) regular basis. I can throw down some Chuck E. Cheese’s breadsticks (they are the only restaurant I can think of that serves them with ranch dressing without you having to make a special request) and Philip loves their Italian sub.
Going to Chuck E. Cheese’s is special for us because it was a first job for both of us, and it’s where we met (although we didn’t start dating until later, but still….we likely would have never met if we hadn’t worked there, and if it hadn’t been for some mutual CEC friends, we probably never would have started dating). It was a fun place to work (albeit stressful….people will do some crazy things in the name of pizza, tokens, and birthday parties, and you would not believe the droves in which they come on rainy or cold days). And, believe it or not, my standards for food service are very high because of what I learned working for a giant rodent (and yes, I wore the suit….on many, many occasions).
First of all, the place is clean. Or at least it was in the mid-nineties. I know because I personally mopped, dusted, wiped, and vacuumed the majority of that building more nights than not. Nothing to do on Monday afternoon (which was usually our least busy day of the week)? Pull out the booths and sweep behind them. Still nothing to do? Go ahead and dust the baseboards. Seriously. There was a cleaning project for every day of the week. Closing was hardcore, with wiping down the tables (which, presumably, had already been cleaned when they were bussed, but you can clean them again) then going over them with a napkin, sweeping the floor then vacuuming, cleaning the toilets (and the urinals-good times), mopping the bathroom floors (which included using a squeegee), and pretty much spit-shining the sinks. The sink thing was so ingrained in me by the manager who trained me to do closing that one of my friends, whom I trained, told me recently that she never cleans her bathroom without thinking of me and the emphasis I put on getting the entire faucet spotless. Oh dear. We always scored high on our restaurant report card, because management trained us to be meticulous about keeping things just so.
For another thing, for a chain restaurant, the food is fresh. I mean sure, the pepperoni, sausage, and cheese come in a package, and the eggs (as I mentioned here) come from a bag….but there’s someone in the back every morning chopping the vegetables that go on the salad bar and the pizza “make” table. They make the dough in house…from a mix, sure, but they’re still mixing it (with a gigantic mixer that you weren’t allow to touch if you weren’t eighteen….man, I’d love to get my hands on that thing), proofing it, and rolling it with their own hands. Philip taught me how to make a pizza (I could never cut it like those kitchen guys could with that gigantic pizza knife, though. It pains me to this day when I get a pizza from a restaurant and it’s not completely cut through. Those guys could wield that thing like nobody’s business.). God only knows how many he made in his day.
Finally, the service….I’ll admit, it’s not the same when I go in there these days. The managers that were there when I was there have moved on to other things, some within the company, some not. It’s not that the service is bad now, I just don’t see the same emphasis on service that there was in my day. We had something called “blue tents”, which look like the table numbers but blue and with the CEC guest (we did not say customer! Period.) satisfaction policy printed on it. The blue tent was placed on the table when the food was delivered, and it served as a reminder that you needed to check in on the guest at least once after the food was delivered to the table. When you checked on a table, you would remove the blue tent to indicated you had done a check-back. Management did not want to see a sea of blue tents when they walked through the dining room (which was called the showroom). Check-backs also served as an opportunity to do some “pre-bussing”-removing trays and trash that the family was finished with. The first time I went to Chuck E. Cheese’s as a non-employee and a blue tent was not put on my table, I thought, “Uh-oh.”
We also had “secret shoppers”, also known as mystery shoppers. Paid by the company, these people would come in and order off the menu, play games, and get merchandise from the ticket counter, then report back their experience, service, food, cleanliness, and all. The last thing you wanted was a bad secret shopper mention (in fact, if they complimented you, you got a special pin to wear). My first mention? Terrible. I’d been there about two months, and according to the secret shopper, I was gabbing with another employee behind the merchandise counter and some guy who was off duty rather than paying attention to them (naturally, they did not get the name of either person that I was talking to). I never could remember that day, and I was never convinced that it wasn’t someone else wearing my nametag (because people would do that, when they accidentally wore their own nametags home and forgot to bring them back). I was totally gung-ho about my job…I mean, no one could believe I’d never been a cheerleader after they saw how enthusiastically I did the birthday dance….yeah. Whether it was me or not, though, I learned my lesson, and I never slacked again (and I’ve certainly never forgotten how embarrassed I was!).
So, now you know…..my standard for food service was set by a larger-than-life mouse. And I am forever grateful for that experience.