Monday, July 21, 2008

Mom & child with autism kicked out of Chuck E. Cheese's

A mom from Bloomington, Illinois was escorted out of Chuck E. Cheese's last week. I got an email from the McLean County Autism Society letting me know what happened. The mom has two sons with autism. They are on the Gluten Free Casein Free Diet. So the mom usually brings a sack lunch for them when they go to a restaurant because most restaurants do not have GFCF Diet options. That is what she did when her sons went to a field trip at Chuck E. Cheese's. Things did not go as planned.

HOI 19's Ashley McNamee drove to Bloomington this week to find out the rest of the story. Here is the verbatim. The video is now on

Living with autism can make some everyday activities, like eating out with your family, difficult.Susan Perez has two sons diagnosed with autism. Like many children diagnosed with autism, they're on a medically prescribed diet filled with supplements and free of everything from gluten to casein.

"That's usually the typical, gluten and casein, but they also can't have soy, corn, potato, or yeast, so there are multiple things they can't eat." The Perez family brings their own food to restaurants or the restaurants help them meet special dietary restrictions. Normally, it isn't a problem.

But earlier this month they went to Chuck E. Cheese in Bloomington with a local school district's autism camp. "They actually confiscated the food as soon as we walked in the door," said Perez. Perez says she spoke to the manager, but was told Chuck E. Cheese has a strict policy not allowing any outside food into the restaurant, except some birthday cakes. "She wouldn't budge, I pleaded with her," she said.

When Perez and the manager were unable to reach an agreement, the Bloomington police department was called and Perez was forced to leave. In a statement to HOI 19 News, Chuck E. Cheese says they made several attempts to accommodate Perez and her family.
"Our manager offered to refrigerate their food until they left and tried to show the multiple products available that would be suitable for the needs of the individual," the statement said. Perez says that isn't true.

"No they didn't offer any alternatives, there was no discussion about any alternatives," said Perez. She says the whole experience was frustrating because it prevented her child with special needs from doing what normal kids do. "He can't eat the food provided at the restaurant but he still wants to be able to play with his friends, sit with his friends, and eat with his friends," she said.

What she wants is simple. "I think they need to change their policy," said Perez. She wonders when restaurants will be able to accommodate kids with special dietary needs so they can feel just like everyone else. Experts say autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. They say it affects more than one million people.

When I arrived at work this afternoon, I was surprised to see there are already several comments on the HOI website against this woman, blaming her for what happened. I wasn't there, so I cannot judge, but I did just interview a mom who has a child with peanut allergies. As I watched Ashley's story, I wondered what children with food allergies are supposed to do when their school has a field trip to Chuck. E. Cheeses. They just can't eat all day? They have to sit in the bus while the others eat? I don't know. It seems like there has to be a better solution to this problem. We all know more and more kids are being diagnosed with autism and with severe food allergies.


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Shannon said...

Even if the restaurant had any "safe" options for the children, (what would they be? A few veggies on the salad bar? geesh...) chances are they were contaminated by being around the "non-safe" items. Unless Chuck E. Cheese has a separate kitchen where those things are prepared, they are not "safe" options.

I see their side - but I think it's mostly just ignorance on their part on what a strict GFCF diet entails.

SallyN said...

Wow. Just, wow. I understand a restaurant is a for-profit endeavor, but to take such extreme measures to protect their profit interests?

Anonymous said...

As someone who takes food to ANY restaurant that we eat in, it does NOT make financial sense for a restaurant to not allow parents to bring in food for their children with special dietary needs.

We rarely eat out. When we do it is usually a treat from the in-laws. When I bring in food for my 3 dds (all because of food allergies), there are 6-13 other people who paid for their food. If I was not allowed to bring in my dds' food, none of us would be buying the restaurant's food.

I really don't think restaurants get the financial impact from a lack of accommodating food allergies/sensitivities. For example, Pizza Hut has peanut warnings on their pizza. I suspect they think that means, for example, that my dd can't eat there, and what's one person to a company that big? What I don't think they get is that if dd doesn't eat there, neither does her immediate family, nor does her extended family order from there during gatherings, neither does the PTO when her class wins the fund raiser prize, neither does her Brownie troop, nor her soccer team.... Now, multiply THAT by all of the people with food allergies, and I think it might start to add up, especially as food allergies become more common.

One last thought, although we don't eat at restaurants often, over the past 6 years, we have taken food into at least 20 restaurants and not one of them has given us a hard time. We ask for a plate and explain. We order the girls a drink. And, we keep it low key. So, those of you new to food allergies, don't let this concern you too much. You might eventually run into a restaurant that you decide doesn't deserve your hard-earned money. But, they seem to be rare.

Bethany said...

How frustrating! I went to a Chuck E. Cheese last month for my nieces birthday. I can't have gluten, so I had food from the salad bar. Can you say yuck? That was not a good salad bar.

I'm an adult, so I can handle situations like that without feeling left out and sad, but these were kids! What a good mom to still make it so her kids can go to places like that by packing their own food.

I realize there are rules, but those are for the employees to follow strictly. A manager has the power to make exceptions and he should have in this case.

Anonymous said...

I worked at Chuck E. Cheese over 12 years ago and the policy was that no outside food can be brought into the restaurant. This is a corporate policy and it is in place to prevent people from bringing liters of soda, chips, etc for birthday parties.

The proper way for the mother to handle this would have been for the mother to call the restaurant before the trip and speak with the manager about the situation. I'm pretty sure the manager would have made accomodations if known about in advance.

Cinnamon said...

Where is the gift of using good judgment on the part of the staff at CEC? How about thinking outside of the proverbial *box* and seeing this is not a case of someone trying to get out of buying food at the *restaurant*?
As a parent of two food allergic children, it is very difficult for our family to go to a restaurant and enjoy a meal without concern that the servers are knowledgeable about the ingredients. We currently have a list of over 100 derivatives that can make my son ill. How can I trust that servers or cooks have actually taken the time to read the labels or recipes for the ingredients that I specify are unsafe? Even foods that you think would be safe, have additives that render the food unsafe for allergic kids. I have worked in restaurants in the past. Before food allergies personally touched me, I did not understand how serious they were. How can I expect some random server to take my concerns seriously?
CEC must lighten up on their policy that only protects their interest, and allow their employees to use their heads and think. We will not be patronizing the *restaurant*.

BDBmom said...

As a parent of a child with Autism, I am compelled to ask, "what if this were YOU"? YOU could be the one with a disabled child in your family someday. YOU could be the one that has to stand up for your child and be forcibly removed from the premises by police because you are advocating for your child's rights. This could be YOU trying to find a way for your child to have normal experiences in our abnormal world. This could someday be YOUR niece, nephew, grandchild, Godchild, or anyone else YOU LOVE being treated as if they are not allowed to belong. Yes, this could be YOU.....

Aspie mom said...

I think this is absolutely crazy. I have a child with Autism and some very mild food allergies. Her and her twin sister break out from certain foods. We don't take food with us because we can unsually find something that they can eat on the menu even though it is usually the same things over and over.

I just can't believe that CEC would not let her in. What a way for a child to feel even more excluded or different. They have enough on their plates without being singled out again.

I cannot believe that CEC also didn't think about liability concerns. What if the child ate something that they were not supposed to because they threw the mother out with his food? You better believe that would be a great big law suit.

I used to work at a restaraunt with pizza. I know a family who had children with severe food allergies. They ordered pizza for the adults and brought in food for the kids. We never blinked an eye. It was the last thing we wanted was a child/adult having an allergic reaction in our restaraunt. We thought about safety over anything else. That is the way it should be.

It is a shame how often we have to stand up for our children with special needs or special accomidations. It is frustrating! I am glad that this mother did not back down. It just shows the public that this company needs to rethink their rules and priorities and to start thinking about the safety of their customers. I believe that they just lost a customer in me.

4 is crazy said...

As a mom of kids with food allergies, I have taken food into this CEC one time. My child ate something small from the salad bar and she reacted. The food was cross contaminated, even though it was brought fresh from the kitchen for us. This was 3 years ago.

Now I hear of a friend who tried to eat there recently with a child who has multiple food allergies and the management has the audacity to refuse to allow this child to eat there, offers unsafe alternatives (salad bar), and does all of this in front of the young boy.

What a horrible message CEC is sending to the food allergy and parents of children with Autism communities.

Mychelle99 said...

My playgroup met at CEC in Bloomington, IL, yesterday (8/14) for a "Last Hurrah of the Summer". Included were my friend and her son, who has multiple severe food allergies. Our group of 5 adults and 12 children purchased 100's of tokens, 3 large pizzas, 10 drinks and 3 all-you-can-eat salad bars. We were definitely paying customers. When our pizza was brought out (after we'd been there, spending money, for 90 minutes), the server held the pizza up, would not set it down on the table, and pointed to my friend's son (who was eating his safe pizza) and said, "He can't have that in here." She singled him out, wouldn't serve the other kids at the table their pizza, and gave my friend these options:
-take your son to the car to eat his lunch
-wrap up the CEC pizza and leave the restaurant

She refused to budge, refused to be reasonable, refused to do the right thing. She eventually offered that my friend could get her son a salad--but because of cross contamination, this was NOT a viable option. The CEC employee (who happened to be an assistant manager) was so obstinate in the situation that another diner from several tables away approached our group, trying to help, pleading with the employee to do the right thing.

My friend's son, who is 6 years old, of course knew what was going on and after 2-3 bites of his pizza, wrapped it up, announced "I'm done! I'm done! I'm done!" and ran off. Then, the CEC employee actually said to my friend, "Your son really is still hungry. He's just saying he's done because you're making such a big deal about this."

It was a horrible situation. CEC needs to amend their policy and educate their employees. If you would like to let them know your opinion, their corporate phone number is 1-888-778-7193. Their motto of "Where a kid can be a kid" is obviously missing a few words: "...unless your kids have any sort of special dietary needs"

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