14 June 2016

Backside of Menu

A while back we spent a week reviewing various menu items at Skipper Canteen. One of the reasons we were able to frequent the mess hall several times was the fact that it was running a reservation system for only same-day reservation. We could get up that morning, make a reservation for lunch or dinner, and be able to find a time relatively close to what we were looking for. Word has spread through the jungles of Adventureland that Skipper Canteen has now slipped into the 180-day Advanced Dining Reservation system. We’ve also heard tale of the Plaza Restaurant slowly migrating to walk-up or a limited reservation process. With all of these tests and changes, we thought it was time to take a look at the reservation system and where we think it is aces and where it needs some refurbishment.

I loved being able to not fret about getting a table at the Skipper Canteen. The same-day ADR system worked wonderfully for us in the spring. We had not planned out the trip to the minute detail and it was fairly last-minute for us. Over the past couple of years, since we are lucky enough to be able to visit Walt Disney World fairly regularly, we’ve treated the trips more like locals. We pick and choose when and where we want to visit something, but don’t have too many set in stone plans. That has always made dining a bit of a hassle.

The same-day ADRs for Skipper Canteen, a new and hopefully long-time gem of the Walt Disney World dining scene, made it easy on us. I’m certain it also made getting into the new restaurant for locals who wanted to see what the skippers had cooked up. Skipper Canteen is definitely a place I want to revisit, but with the change in its reservation status, I’m concerned that it could be recognized for the wonder that it is and become increasingly difficult to book. I am a big fan of this system, it allows for guests who don’t have the ability to plan months out, like locals, or who have had their plans changed abruptly.

That said, I’m not asking that every restaurant in Walt Disney World go to this system. Some restaurants that are regularly filled may find it difficult to get the same number of guests into seats if there isn’t a driving force to make an advanced reservation. Additionally, guests will plan special meals further out, something like a birthday dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table or California Grill, and not being able to book those in advance could cause undue anxiety if guests had to wait until the day of to know if they had the reservation they hoped for or if they had to make alternative plans.

The test that is rumored to be coming to the Plaza Restaurant is intriguing in its own right. Reservations will be available in blocks for some off-peak hours, but at busy meal times it will be a first-come, first-serve venue. This plays nicely with both guests who want to be certain they get a table and with those who may be looking for a solid sit-down meal on that day. I’ll wait to reserve judgement on what I think of the system until a time when/if it is up and running, but for not I’ll be cautiously optimistic.

So, where have I left us? To use a theme park metaphor, we’re probably hungry, staring at a map, in the middle of a busy walkway, wondering where we can go for a meal, huh?

I’ve never thought that a six month window for dining reservations was all that guest friendly, and I’d personally love to see that window come down to something more suitable to the average vacation planner, say somewhere around 90 days out from the reservation. This gives guests time to plan for special occasions or meals and Walt Disney World time to plan accordingly for staffing needs.

But what about these alternative, same-day reservations that I’ve been speaking off for the past several paragraphs, you ask? While I would love to see the window come down to something that fits the average guest more, I’d also like to see a couple of restaurants that prioritize same day reservations. This isn’t a problem for most resort restaurants, save those marque dining experiences that I’d fully expect to stay with the established ADR window. When it comes to the parks, however, I think having two or three sit down restaurants that operate only on same-day or an alternative ADR system would be fantastic. This gives Walt Disney World an excellent mix of dining options that would allow everyone to enjoy what they are serving up.

What do you think about the current dining reservation system in Walt Disney World? Where do you think it hits the mark and where is there room for improvements? How off base am I from your experiences and those of the average guest?

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