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."
It isn't clear exactly how often fights break out at Chuck E. Cheese's 538 locations. Richard Huston, executive vice president of marketing for the chain's parent company, CEC Entertainment Inc., describes their occurrence as "atypical." But in some cities, law-enforcement officials say the number of disruptions at their local outlet is far higher than at nearby restaurants, and even many bars.
"We've had some unfortunate and unusual altercations between adults at these locations," Huston says. "Even one is just way too many."
In Toledo, Ohio, four women were charged with disorderly conduct after a melee erupted at a Chuck E. Cheese's there last year. According to police reports, it started when parents complained to the restaurant manager that children were loitering at a machine that draws digital pictures. Two of the children were Barbie Clifton's daughters, then 14 and 10 years old. Clifton had come out of the bathroom when she saw a woman yelling at her daughters and her friend.
That touched off a fight between more than 10 people. One woman removed the red rope that marks the entrance queue and handed it to another woman, who swung the metal clip attached to it at others involved in the incident.
Fights among guests are an issue for all restaurants, but security experts say they pose a particular problem for Chuck E. Cheese's, since it is designed to be a haven for children.
To appeal to adults, about 70 percent of the chain's locations serve wine and beer. Some city officials have pinpointed that as the main cause of the fighting. Now some towns are asking CEC to step into the ring. Amid pressure from local politicians, some Chuck E. Cheese's have stopped serving alcohol and added security guards who carry pistols.