5 Surprisingly Grim Realities Of Life At A Chuck E. Cheese’s

They say you're not truly an adult until you go back to a Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant that dazzled you as a child, only to see it as a sad, tattered place with terrible pizza and games that only award cheap bullshit as prizes. Bonus points if you're drunk and get into a fistfight while you're there.

What's it like to be an adult who spends every day there, trying to bring delight to all of the children who aren't yet jaded enough to know better? We talked to Mark, Matt, Heather, and Adam who used to work at four different CEC restaurants, or, as they call them: the final resting places of all their hope for humanity. They said ...

5

Staff Has To Be Constantly Vigilant About Lurking Pedophiles

Tammra McCauley / Wiki Commons

If you walk into a Chuck E. Cheese's wearing just a trench coat and carrying a large paper bag of candy, employees may view you with some suspicion, and with good reason. Sex offenders are sometimes spotted there and sometimes arrested there (and even sometimes work there). There are various cases of people there masturbating or forcing kids into sex acts, not to mention the sex offenders who troll the dumpsters out back for soiled child diapers or the ones caught at home with a large collection of Chuck E. Cheese tokens along with their kiddie porn.

Chris Ainsworth / Flickr
Good luck trying to post bail with those, asshole.

While they don't have a way of keeping the molesters from entering, Chuck E. Cheese's has a long-established protocol in place to make sure none escape with a child under each arm. When you walk into the place, you pass through the "kid check stand," and the employee there daps the hands of everyone in your party with a rubber stamp. The ink used to be colored and kind of smudgy; these days, they use UV ink visible under a blacklight. When you leave, the employee checks hands to make sure everyone leaves with the same people they came with.

Chuck E. Cheese / YouTube
"I am not a number! I am a free kid!"

So, how well does this work in practice? It depends on who you ask. At his branch, Mark says they occupy the kid check stand religiously. If the employee assigned to it steps more than five feet away without getting someone else to cover it, they're fired, no second chances. This happened to two employees during his time there. This guards not just against body snatchers, but against the occasional child drunk on orange Hi-C sprinting out of the restaurant and right into oncoming traffic.

CEC North Georgia / YouTube
If Gandalf ever needs a side job, we have the perfect gig.

"People try and leave all the time with mismatched stamps," he says, but it's not as worrying as it sounds. Invariably, it's because some child came in with perhaps their father and leaves with their grandmother, which is usually not a case of kidnapping. Mark asks her, "Can you prove that you really are this child's grandparent?" The old lady replies, "You're darn tootin'!" And she takes out an iPhone, containing hundreds of smiling photos of the two of them together.

Heather, on the other hand, had less confidence in the system, saying the numbers frequently smear into an unreadable glowing blob. "I'd pretend I could still read them and go, 'yep, you're all good'," she says. "I'd get comments from the adults about how good I must be at my job to decipher some meaning in the blobs. Nope." Instead, she'd rely on her own memory of who entered with whom, while also keeping an eye out for any exiting child who happened to be crying and screaming.

4

The Parents Can Be The Worst People Ever

Edward O'Connor / Wiki Commons

Parents may be relying on Chuck E. Cheese's as a nice, legal alternative to abandoning their loud-ass children in the forest, but that doesn't stop them from doing the kind of shit that gets you banned from the chain forever.

"In one instance, we had to break up a fight between two young women," says Heather. "Each one had a baby in one arm and was throwing punches with the other. We ended up calling the police on them ... We're not entirely sure what set them off, but honestly nothing at Chuck E. Cheese is worth putting your child in harm's way."

Big Cheese / YouTube
But where else are you going to find a rainbow Slinky? Yours for a mere 600 tickets!

"Another time, we were having a birthday party at the restaurant. Out of nowhere, the parents start yelling and throwing punches at each other and the entire family erupts in a fight. They knock over all the tables in the surrounding birthday rows with food and drink flying everywhere. The cops were called, someone with a warrant was arrested, there was hair pulled out on the floor, it was a real mess. We were there until 1 a.m. scrubbing food out of the carpet."

On yet another occasion, a manager at Heather's location got the shit beaten out of him by a group of parents because one of the games was momentarily out of order.

chuck_e._live/Instagram
It's Whack-A-Mole, not Whack-A-Manager.

Why does stuff like that keep happening? For one: Alcohol. Chuck E. Cheese's serves beer, but many adults find that doesn't get them quite drunk enough to endure a children's birthday party. "I used to find empty booze containers in the ladies room all the time, and I can only imagine how much contraband booze we didn't find."

3

The Hygiene Is Abysmal

Larry D. Moore / Wiki Commons

First off, good news: We're not going to tell you what it's like to have to clean diarrhea out of a ball pit. "We actually don't have a ball pit at our location," says Mark, cheerfully. But the rest of the funhouse -- that twisted complex of tubes and slides that's super fun to crawl through -- is full of crevices perfect for hiding little kid poop. "Probably my favorite story," says Matt, "was the time some kid dropped his shorts and went down the slide." The honor fell upon Matt to scale the slide and hunt down every shit streak before the next birthday party could begin.

Big Cheese / YouTube
Where a skid can be a skid.

There's roughly one poop cleanup weekly, says Mark. And one more for piss -- when a panicked child asks you which way to the bathroom, it's even money that he'll take three steps before yelling "too late!" and letting loose yellow fury. Major barf cleanups number about three per week. Matt recalls one Friday night when an especially creative kid threw up not on the floor, but into one of those water-shooting arcade machines. "It wasn't discovered until Monday morning," he says. "So glad I wasn't there to have to clean those filters ..."

And then you've got this guy:

Mark Sullivan / WireImage / GettyImages
Now it's the adults who're afraid of Santa.

We've told you before how smelly and claustrophobic life can be inside a full-body mascot costume, and those were the costumes at Disney World -- the best of the best. With Chuck E. Cheese's, you'll get untrained teens donning the mask and, half-blind, running over little kids. As for dealing with that interior stink, management washes the thing somewhere between "rarely" and "never."

"We brush the pizza sauce and cake off the outside," says Adam, "so Chuck E. doesn't look like a hobo, but the inside only gets cleaned when the budget allows." That's once a year, maybe. Otherwise, they have to use Febreze, and most employees don't bother. "I could always tell what the helmet would smell like," says Mark, "based off of who was having to wear it that day."

Martiniturbide / Wiki Commons
The look of someone who just spent their shift releasing five fracking sites' worth of natural gas.

2

The Animatronic Characters Are Terrifying

Sam Howzit / Flickr

One of the most popular horror games of the last few years took place entirely in a thinly-veiled stand-in for a Chuck E. Cheese's, populated by killer animatronics. Well, that's it -- we have officially reached critical wuss levels as a species because, come on, how could anyone ever find the CEC robots scary in any shape or form?

chuck_e._live/Instagram

Oh ...

Belle & Wissell, Co.
Someone call a young priest and an old priest!

"Taking care of the animatronics was one of my bigger duties," Adam explains. "Chuck E. looks like a Terminator when you take all of his fur off. He always looked, I guess psychotic would be the best word, without the face. Like he just couldn't wait to tear from his bolts and start smashing people," and the really scary part is that this sort of thing does actually happen.

"One time, Chuck E.'s wrist actuator sliced through the bolt holding the hand bracket on and it just fell loose. So Chuck E. is dancing away with his wrist swinging around like the world's worst nunchuck ... Another time his back actuator went out, which had him leaning way forward for his whole dance set. One song was heavy on the arm movements so he kept karate chopping and upper cutting the stage barrier, eventually busting it," like Johnny Five from Short Circuit if he was doing a cameo on Westworld.

Leo Lion / YouTube
"I'm alive! Guess that makes one of us, bitch!"

The only thing that kept Adam from burning his restaurant down with a holy, cleansing fire, was the fact that he got to humiliate the robots every once in awhile. "I had a controller that controlled the robots' movements. I could almost get Chuckie's arms close enough to make a 'Fuck You' gesture, and of course, hip thrusting and imaginary ass slapping." Of course.

chuck_e._live/Instagram
Where the "Junior's First Rule 34" magic happens.

1

It's A Little-Kid Casino

Big Cheese / YouTube

We're not sure what's the older joke: that casinos are Chuck E. Cheese's for adults or that Chuck E. Cheese's is a casino for kids. But with the second of these, at least, it might not be a joke at all.

A couple of years ago, states started cracking down on cyber cafes with slots games, reasoning that these were just really shitty casinos in places casinos weren't allowed to operate -- kids pay to play the games, for the miniscule chance to win more than they spent. When Florida passed a law banning gambling machines, the Miami Herald sent an investigator to Chuck E. Cheese's (hopefully not wearing his trusty detective trench coat) and the paper concluded that the machines there violate anti-gambling laws by any objective interpretation.

Plush Time Wins
They distract patrons with cartoon chicken-ladies and soda instead of sexy waitresses and booze.

Asked for comment, Miami's mayor said, "I'm not going to go arrest Chuck E. Cheese in front of a bunch of six-year-olds." Which is a shame, because our sources talk of six-year-olds alternately cowering at the sight of Chuck E. and punching his crotch, so they'd love seeing him dragged off in cuffs.

"There's a gambling element to a lot of the games," says Mark. For example, one game has kids dropping in tokens hoping that a balance will topple and dislodge a ton of tokens. Another game works similarly to roulette. Oh, and the machines take tokens or quarters, but the tokens cost 33 cents each. Parents buy tokens anyway, either because they don't know or because this feels more wholesome than having their kids beg them for actual money.

Greg Younger / Wiki Commons
Or just lock them in the ticket-tube, because you're never too young to get literally imprisoned by your addiction.

Then there's the California parent who sued the chain for $5 million, saying that their flashy games of chance had gotten her kids addicted to gambling. That would be pretty remarkable if true, considering the two girls were aged five and three.

Chuck E. Cheese's response was masterful: "1) Our machines are legal, and if they aren't, then 2) whoa girl, you just admitted to voluntarily participating in illegal gambling, which means you'll be going to jail!" The woman dropped the suit. The house always wins, lady.

Heather S owes a lot to Chuck E. Cheese's having met her husband working there. She still loves visiting the stores with her family, all things considered. Matt streams on Twitch at twitch.tv/thehoove. Adam lives in the Midwest where he taught his cat to walk on a leash and is totally not a weirdo. Stop staring. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at c.j.strusiewicz@gmail.com. Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for stuff cut from this article and other things no one should see.

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