The past 15 months have been difficult for the entire restaurant industry, but few chains faced the level of hardship experienced by Chuck E. Cheese, a chain that has built its brand on in-person gatherings.
For example, a Chipotle Mexican Grill burrito is more or less the same whether you order it at the counter or through a mobile app, but doing takeout for a game of Skee-Ball and pizza party on Grubhub is a totally different story.
But now, after this most difficult of years, on-premise dining is coming back. With more than half of the U.S. adult population fully vaccinated (and 40 percent of the all-ages population), people are returning to restaurants with plenty of pent-up demand for in-person experiences.
In a bid to re-establish its place in consumers’ daily routines, the chain has launched a new mobile app featuring digital ordering and a range of personalized loyalty rewards.
“Our goal is to provide functionality that will make it easier for parents to manage their entire play experience at Chuck E. Cheese so they can focus on the important things,” Sherri Landry, chief marketing officer of Chuck E. Cheese parent company CEC Entertainment, told PYMNTS in an interview. “We want to give them a memorable experience with lots of fun every time.”
The debut of this mobile app comes alongside the restaurant chain’s “Summer of Fun” event launch, featuring seasonal menu items and entertainment to welcome customers back to stores.
The Ghost Of Charles Entertainment Cheese Past
While the traditional Chuck E. Cheese experience may not be totally suited for the stay-at-home economy, the chain did establish a presence on off-premises channels with an at-home event package.
“During the pandemic, we quickly pivoted to help our families offer a Chuck E. Cheese experience at home, and we continue to offer that today,” said Landry. “The packages include pizza, a goody bag, coloring and activity books, and other special treats.”
Additionally, you may remember when the restaurant quietly added its pizza to Grubhub under the pseudonym Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings. Once a Philadelphia customer discovered that this pizzeria shared an address with a local Chuck E. Cheese location, a company spokesperson confirmed the connection. The spokesperson added that the name is derived from Pasqually P. Pieplate, the name of the fictional animatronic chef that is part of Chuck E. Cheese’s band. (It is sort of a reverse Ratatouille situation, in which the human chef character is in the background, while the rat gets to be the face of the restaurant.)
The Ghost Of Charles Entertainment Cheese Present
Now, though the chain is continuing to sell these at-home packages, and Pasqually’s ghost kitchen continues to operate, the on-premise experience is coming back. Landry noted that COVID-19 precautions include a three-phased reopening from most to least restricted, following local regulations. Restrictions for the summer include following local mask mandates and social distancing guidelines, providing hand sanitizer, enabling contact-free payments, sanitizing surfaces and limits on private VIP reservations.
With the return of the in-person experience, the new mobile app will help the chain learn about its customers’ wants and expectations.
“The new app will help us understand what matters most to our guests so they will benefit from offers, perks and gifts that they care about,” said Landry. “…They gave us feedback and we listened. They said they wanted flexibility in their rewards, and that is what we delivered.”
The rewards program allows customers to choose whether they would like to redeem their loyalty points for food (churros or pizza), for playtime or for e-tickets.
Landry explained, “They have options so they can choose the reward that makes the most sense for them and their family.”
As customers receive these rewards, Chuck E. Cheese receives vital information that allows the restaurant to offer “personalized recommendations based on users/guests’ preferences, spending and ordering habits,” which helps the chain “tailor their next experience.” Across the restaurant loyalty space, industry experts note, this sort of personalization can be the factor that separates top-performing rewards programs from the rest of the pack.
The Ghost Of Charles Entertainment Cheese Future
In the near future, the restaurant’s mobile app will provide a digitally integrated in-restaurant experience. Landry explained, “Through the Chuck E Cheese App, soon guests will be able to order food right from their tables and re-up their play cards, and many more features will come soon.”
In the year ahead, Landry said, the chain plans to remodel many of its stores, to secure new “licensing and entertainment partnerships,” and to grow its international presence. After the “Summer of Fun” event will come a range of other seasonal celebrations, including a “Chuck E. Cheese Halloween Boo-tacular” and a “Winter WINNER-land.”
By summer of 2022, Landry said, she hopes to be able to say that the chain “has emerged from one of the toughest periods in our collective history stronger and more relevant than ever before.”