With the new year in full swing comes the hope of discounts and deals for our Disney vacations. Free dining is arguably the most popular incentive guests look for when it comes to planning a vacation. Staying on budget is always a priority, and we all love convenience. The Disney Dining Plan certainly meets those needs, which has been explored in a previous DIS article by Kate Joseph. Many find the value worthwhile, but is the “value” and convenience compromising your overall dining experience?
My focus of this article will be on restaurants where the main attraction is the food and overall dining experience. The popularity of character dining, or iconic locations such as Cinderella’s royal Table and the Blue Bayou in Disneyland will always be popular regardless of quality of food, as is evident by the sad popularity of Hollywood and Vine in Hollywood Studios.
Along with ease and convenience comes popularity of the program. An increase in volume tends to lead to a decrease in quality. Having to make dining reservations 6 months in advance is quite a challenge — and unheard of in any other situation — but for Disney it’s expected, and space fills up fast. Le Cellier at one time was a must-do restaurant with consistently positive reviews. Reservations would fill up the moment they became available. Disney may have changed the status of the restaurant from 1 table credit to 2, possibly to alleviate crowds and cash in on the restaurant’s popularity. Quality began to dip at Le Cellier. and although it continues to receive decent and positive reviews, it certainly hasn’t quite regained its former glory and status
As a Disneyland annual passholder I am accustomed to consistent high quality food and service. I’m sure this is partially due to the fact that guest numbers are lower; however, with no dining plan in place I believe that Disneyland has to work a little harder to earn the money of its guests by providing great food. My favorite restaurant, Carthay Circile opened in 2012 and has maintained its quality and great reputation for the nearly 6 years since its opening. Compare that to Be Our Guest in WDW, which opened the same year and quickly succumbed to the curse of its own popularity. During previews and its first few months of operation it delivered consistent, quality food, but has since declined and often times been rated as “good” or “fine” at best. (Rumors continue to swirl about Be Our Guest becoming a signature restaurant, which certainly isn’t attributed to their quality of food, but again, to potentially alleviate its popularity and crowds) Will the food alone really be worth the cost of 2 dining credits?
In my opinion a good portion of 2-credit restaurants are classified as such to ensure manageable numbers, and not necessarily based on value or quality of what is being offered.
During peak times, and especially during free dining promotions, there can be upwards of 65% participation in the Disney Dining Plan. This means that the money is already in Disney’s pocket, and not money they have to make an effort to earn. Take into consideration that when Disney sets the credit amounts for its restaurants, it’s for the guests who have already given their money over to Disney and not for the guests who will be paying at the time of dining. When you pay up front, you’ve taken away the power of leverage with your money in hand. Could guests be prone to letting things slide because in the back of their head they might think, “This meal is already paid for”?
There is something that seems to change in our brains when we’ve already spent the money as opposed to having money in hand and deciding on how and where to spend it. Consider the recourse of taking an item off your bill because it’s not an acceptable quality, verses having already spent the money with the Dining Plan, and maybe if your entire meal were a disaster they might let you keep your credit for another mediocre meal. I am certainly not condoning being a difficult diner or scheming the system for free meals, however, it is important to weigh out how your money is spent and help to hold restaurants and Disney to the high standards that they project.
There are obviously many factors to take in when figuring out why many restaurants at WDW settle on being mediocre, but I can’t exclude the idea that if they already have my money with the Dining Plan, why bother improving?