CHAIN REACTIONS : TRIED & TESTED

What sort of kids' party does a burger bar or pizza parlour run? We sent groups of young revellers to try six of the best known
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IT PROBABLY doesn't score highly on the parental one-upmanship scale to have your offspring's party at McDonald's or Pizzaland, but there's a certain advantage in having a family restaurant do the hard slog of keeping a posse of boisterous under-10s fed, watered and amused. The chains provide party packages that include paper hats, balloons, games and presents. While adults may sneer at the nutritional and aesthetic value of burgers, chicken nuggets, chips and milk shakes, there's no doubt that they suit less sophisticated palates. The parties also work out extraordinarily cheap. So if lack of space, energy or money convinces you that it's worth a try next time a birthday looms, which restaurant should you choose? We gave some self-sacrificing volunteers the onerous task of testing the party services of six restaurant chains. This is what they said.

THE TEST

Each family group gave each restaurants marks for the quality and choice of the food and drink, the party extras such as hats, presents and novelties, how child-friendly the staff were, value for money, and the standard of the party overall.

THE PANEL

Although the numbers of adults attending varied, each party - comprising children aged from babyhood to eight - was organised by one adult. These were: Yvonne Luke with six children; Margaret St John and six children; John Walsh and six children; Nicola Richford and eight children; Carolyn Metcalfe and six children; and Nick Donaldson and 11 children. One child in each group was designated the birthday boy or girl.

*PIZZALAND

Three adult meals, six children's meals: £33.70

"It made no difference that I had booked a children's party - we might as well have walked in off the street and ordered from the kids' menu," complained Carolyn Metcalfe. The children were similarly disillusioned. "The man didn't play any games with us. We didn't get a party bag. I was the birthday girl and man didn't ask whose birthday it was," said Emma Day, who's five. The waiter eventually dug out one small balloon each and a packet of crayons to colour in the back of the menu. The children had to wait 40 minutes for their pizza and a further 25 minutes for ice- cream. They thought their pizzas were "yummy", though.

***JUNGLE BUNGLE AT A MILLER'S KITCHEN PUB

Two adult meals, six children's meals, and entry to Jungle Bungle: £32.85

One drawback to the Jungle Bungle is that your kids may never stop nagging to go back again. Yvonne Luke's group can't wait. "They had a ball," she said. "The Jungle Bungle is a first-rate play area, under cover, with loos, a supervisor and tables for parents." "It was fantastic. I loved the helter-skelter slide," said Frances Luke White, aged seven. While the kids adored the Jungle Bungle, Yvonne Luke was not quite as impressed with the organisation's efficiency. The pub to which the Jungle Bungle is attached had told her that, although she could bring the kids, it no longer did parties as such. "Imagine my astonishment when we turned up to find a party going on. A rather surly waitress explained that there had been a mistatake because the chain is rethinking its policy on parties, but she made no apologies for the muddle." In the event, it made no difference to the kids' enjoyment. Typical food was chicken nuggets, chips and beans followed by immense gateaux. The only party paraphernalia were helium- filled balloons,. "I loved watching the mummies climb on the chairs to get them back from the top of the room," said Jesse Luke White, aged four. Miller's Kitchen, who have Jungle Bungles attached to 19 of their pubs, told us they are revamping their party package.

***MCDONALD'S

11 children's meals, tea and coffee for 3 adults and birthday cake: £37.27

McDonald's boast that the host or hostess for their children's parties has "successfully completed a training course in running birthday parties". It seems to have done the trick for Sharon, organiser for Nick Donaldson's group of kids. "She enthusias-tically played games with them such as musical bumps, I-Spy and traffic lights. She was genuinely interested in the children, giving cuddles where needed and making sure any children who were shy or `left out' were included," he said. The food was the predictable burgers or chicken nuggets, fries and a drink and, equally predictably, it met with the children's' approval. But William Donaldson, aged three, complained that his burger was a bit thin: "And I didn't like the green thing" (the gherkin). "The cake was poor - tasteless and processed," according to Nick Donaldson. Distribution of goodie bags to take home marked the end of the party.

****PIZZA HUT

Six children's party meals with birthday cake, plus teas and coffees for three adults: £23.85

A real watch and a card for birthday boy Charlie were among a good selection of party extras provided by Pizza Hut. The enthusiastic waitress, Joanne, also helped the kids enjoy themselves. "She was very helpful and friendly, organising pass-the-parcel and other party games. She called all the children by their correct names and made a fuss of Charlie," said his mother, Margaret St John. "I had a lot of fun but I didn't win any of the games," said Chloe Tarry, aged eight. The kids ate a set party menu - a small deep- pan cheese and tomato pizza, a soft drink and either a slice of birthday cake or ice-cream. "I liked the food very much - I really liked the pizza and the cake," Chloe commented. Margaret's only criticism was that because there were very few people in the restaurant it lacked atmosphere. "However, the kids did seem to enjoy themselves and it was certainly better than a draughty church hall. I would bring more children next time for more noise and atmosphere," she said. Pizza Hut is launching a new party package, which will include face-painting, in mid-March.

*****BURGER KING

One adult meal and six children's meals, plus birthday cake: £29.02

Despite an ingrained loathing of fast food (most of the adults in his party decamped to a nearby wine bar) John Walsh gave the restaurant full marks. "If it has to be fast food, then Burger King gets my vote. They really try hard within the constraints of fast-foodism, and genuinely welcome children as jolly consumers rather than nuisances." The children sat in a fenced-off area of the restaurant with, as John Walsh described it, "a ghetto-blaster thoughtfully provided playing pop records from `The Birdie Song' end of the spectrum". The food was predictable - burgers or chicken nuggets, chips and coke - but none the less popular: "I especially liked the chicken nuggets," said Helena Russell-Redditch, aged seven. But a celebration cream cake was voted rather too slimy and greasy. John Walsh reserved particular praise for the staff, especially the Italian waitress, Marina. The games in the party bags - including a Barbie Doll for the birthday girl - kept the kids busy. In all, a success: "Everyone went home wreathed in smiles, full to the brim, fat as bottles and clutching paper bags of goodies," said John Walsh.

**HAPPY EATER

Two adult meals and eight children's meals: £38

Halfway through this event, Daniel, aged four, asked when the party was going to begin. Unfortunately, it never really did. Although Daniel's mother, Nicola Richford, had booked the party in advance, the restaurant had run out of party bags containing hats, puzzles and the like. The children were given free Happy Eater T-Shirts instead. "The T-shirts were at the table when we arrived but there was no other effort to create a party at all - no balloons, no flags, nothing," said Nicola Richford. Nor did the staff offer any form of entertainment, frivolity or even conversation. The "Triffic Tucker" menu offers a wider choice than most even if the range of dishes - macaroni cheese on toast, for example - would probably still leave foodies unimpressed. Most of the group went for the "Hook, Line, & Sinker": breaded fish shapes, chips and peas. "Very good, but we could have eaten more," said seven-year-olds Oliver Richford, James Spink and Jonathan Alston. Nicola Richford summed up: "The group all thoroughly enjoyed it, but the atmosphere was created solely by the children themselves." She discovered later that they had been charged for 11 meals instead of 10.

Comments