When you are planning your family’s trip to Disney there are a million little things to think about and Disney World dining is just one of them. We are going to break down some of the most important things to take into consideration when planning dining for your Disney vacation.
Table Service vs. Quick Service
You have two main options when thinking about restaurants in Disney. Table service and Quick service. Here’s a breakdown.
Quick service locations are a great option if you want something quick and you don’t care about having a waitperson come and take your order. At quick-service locations, you place your own order and pick it up at a counter or window when it is ready. Many quick-service locations have many tables to choose from so you won’t have to worry that you won’t have a table to eat at. Quick service locations are also more affordable so if you are looking to save money they are a great option.
Table service is a more traditional sit-down style restaurant. You will be seated and have a waitperson to take your order and bring it to you. This is great if you are taking a more relaxed approach to your vacation and don’t mind spending more time and money on your meal.
Signature dining is like table service locations but taken up a notch. These are more fancy locations that are best suited for special occasions as they are meant to take longer and are much more costly.
Disney has had some really fantastic dinner shows in the past and unfortunately, they are currently unavailable due to Covid. Once they come back your family can enjoy entertainment along with a really fantastic meal. My family’s favorite has always been Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness. We have heard that some of the cast members from this dinner show have recently been called back to work from Streaming the Magic. We are hoping this is cause for celebration and that this fan favorite will resume soon!
Disney has offered some really great buffets in the past. With covid, many of those buffet offerings have been closed. The ones that have reopened have had to modify their style a bit. Instead of going into a buffet line and getting what you want yourself, many places have shifted to Family style all you care to enjoy offerings. They will bring you several large dishes of food for the table to chare, You can then ask for more of anything and they will bring you another dish.
Kiosks and carts
If you are looking for a quick snack to get you thru the day then there are several Kiosks and Carts located around all of the parks that have some great options. My favorites are the spring rolls in the Magic Kingdom located near the entrance to Adventureland.
More and more quick-service locations are using the Mobile Order service and we are thrilled. With Mobile Order, you are able to place your order for food or drinks on the My Disney Experience app on your phone and choose when you would like to pick it up. You then get a notification when it’s ready and where to pick it up. You also have the ability to may thru the app so this is a really convenient option for families. We like to place our order while we are waiting in a ride line so that it is ready to pick up after we are off the ride. This is also handy at many of Disneys’ resorts. We have placed an order while in our room and in the time it takes to walk to the restaurant the food is ready and waiting for us.
How Much Does Food Cost At Disney World?
Trying to figure out how much money you need to plan on sending for food can be tough. There are a lot of factors that you need to think about. How many adults vs kids, big appetites vs small appetites as well as quick service vs table service. Here is how I usually plan for my family. We also have a full write-up on just how much money you should budget for food at Disney World as well.
Average Disney World food costs
When I am planning a trip for my family of 3 I think about first what type of restaurants we want to eat at. We have done just about ALL of the character dining when our daughter was little so we don’t really do that anymore. We have also eaten at a lot of the table service locations in the parks so they are not a priority for us either. We generally go with quick service. I like to take a peek at their menus and get a general idea of the costs per entree. Our daughter is older now so she likes to get the adult size vs the kid’s size. I then get an average of let’s say $15 per person. Then I plan on 3 meals a day so that’s $45 x 3 = $135 just for food. I like to around up so let’s just say $150 per day. I also know that things may change and we might get a snack or dessert here or there is always wiggle room in our budget. If you are looking at a table service location for any meal, you can double the average cost per meal per person. Also, If you have little ones eating kids menu items you can take 50% off of the average cost per meal.
You only need to worry about tipping if you are eating at a table service location. In that case, you need to allot 15-20% for tipping. We always have really great service at Disney restaurants so we are usually always tipping 20% or more.
Before Covid Disney offered a Disney Dining plan that enabled you to “prepay” for your meals at Disney World. You would choose between 3 different plans and you would get ‘credits’ to use on each meal. This was a great way for families to budget for meals and not worry about sending more money than they planned to. There hasn’t been any word on when or if Disney will be bringing back the Dining plan.
Advanced Dining Reservations
When booking your trip you are able to pre-book a dining reservation for a restaurant that you know that you really want to go to.
When Can I Make Dining Reservations at Disney World?
Before Covid, you could make an Advanced Dining reservation 180 days in advance. Now Disney has changed that to 60 days in advance. I do like the change because it can be tough to know 6 months in advance where you might want to eat on the Tuesday of your trip. With the window at 60 days, you can go online or call on the 60-day mark of the day that you arrive and make reservations for the entire length of your stay. This is especially handy if there is tough to get into restaurants that you REALLY want to eat at.
Do all Advanced Dining Reservations have to be made 60 days out?
No, not all reservations need to be done at the 60-day mark. I would suggest making some reservations though because the popular restaurants can book up quickly and it can be tough to get reservations on the day or even the day before you want to dine.
Do I Really Need Them?
No, you don’t HAVE to make reservations for most places. Some restaurants have a walk-up waitlist if you want to leave it to chance and don’t care if you can’t get in. If there are any locations though that you would be upset not being able to dine at then reservations are really important.
How to Change or Add to a Dining Reservation
Once you have a reservation booked you can make changes to it in the My Disney Experience app. You can look for different times as well and change how many people are going to be joining you.
Try This Instead? (OpenTable App)
There is an app that is used around the country called Open Table and it lets you look for reservations at restaurants. There are several restaurants in Disney Springs that allow you to use this app along with a couple at the Boardwalk. Currently, there are not any restaurants in the parks available in this app because you need to be a park guest with a ticket to eat at those restaurants.
Free Dining is a promotion that Disney would offer in the past to guests booking vacations with a hotel and ticket packages. Currently, this is not being offered because the dining plan is not in place.
When Does Disney World Offer Free Dining?
Normally free dining is offered every fall historically, but there are no guarantees as to when it’s offered or if it will be offered by Disney. Historically speaking, you can catch the promotion anywhere between the very end of August through November.
I’ve even seen it all the way up to Christmas before, so if anything, look for the free dining promotion in the fall. We have seen these past couple of years they are random dates, and Halloween’s normally included in that.
Character Dining *Currently modified due to Covid*
If you have little ones who are princess or character obsessed then you really should check out character dining. Because of covid not all of the character dining locations are open and even the ones that are, are modified. Like at Cinderellas Royal Table. Cinderella is the only princess that comes out and waves from a distance. And at the Garden Grill in Epcot, all of the characters come out but they are distanced for pictures.
How Much Is Character Dining at Disney World?
Character dining is going to cost you more than a regular table service meal Generally they are a set price per person and you can order anything from the menu. Prices range from $39 – $55 for adults and $24 – $34 for children.
Right now, in my opinion, I do not think that character dining is worth the cost being that you don’t get the full experience of hugging the characters and getting autographs. Once things get back to normal then character dining is a great option because you can meet SO many characters in a short time frame without having to stand in lines to wait.
Disney World Food & Allergies
People who have food allergies will need to do a little extra planning on food. Disney is great though about marking all of their menus with allergy-friendly options whether it is for dairy-free, nut-free or gluten-free. Also, if you want to be sure to not have an issue ask to talk to the chef. We went with a family member who has a few food allergies and the chef came right to our table and discussed all of his allergies and created a special dish just for our family member. I don’t think I have seen that kind of service anywhere before!
How To Save Money On Disney World Food
Everyone wants to try and save as much as possible when booking a Disney trip. There are a few things that you could consider when looking to save a bit here and there on food.
Eat breakfast in your room
If your family isn’t big into eating a lot for breakfast like my family then eating in your room may be a great choice for you. You can have a few groceries delivered to your room from a delivery service and have items such as muffins, cereal, and donuts available for a quick breakfast. If you are staying at a DVC resort then you could have even more options for cooking a full breakfast in your room because those rooms offer a full kitchen.
After eating at enough Disney restaurants we have found that some of the servings are huge. One, in particular, is Chef Art Smiths Homecomin. I know that if I order the fried chicken or the country-fried steak it is enough for me to share the plate with my daughter. We initially did this because we knew we individually couldn’t finish our meals but it worked out really well to save some money as well.
Bring your own water to the parks
The price of bottled water in the parks keeps rising. We have found that we like to bring in our own insulated water bottles filled with ice water. If you are ok with drinking tap water you can ask at any food location for a cup of ice water for free. Insider tip – all Starbucks locations will give you venti ice water for free and their water is filtered! We will then just pour that ice water into our bottles and it stays cold even longer.
Plan Table Service meals for lunch or breakfast
If you have your heart sent on one of the more expensive table service locations but still want to save a little, eat at either breakfast or lunch. You can save some money and still have a nice experience.
Tables in Wonderland card
If you are someone who dines frequently at Disney restaurants then a Tables in Wonderland card may be a good option for you. The card costs $150 a year for APs or DVC members and $175 for Florida residents who are not APs or DVC members. With this card, you can enjoy a 20% discount on food and beverages at participating Disney restaurants. This can be applied for up to 10 guests and also by using this card it adds 18% gratuity no matter how many people are dining. Now, for some this may not be worth it because as an AP or DVC member you already get a discount on food but it can only be used with a smaller party. It’s also not worth it if you don’t dine at Disney often. As a AP you would have to spend over $750 a year to recoup the cost of the card.
With the Disney Dining Plan on pause currently, it can be tough to preplan and save a little money on dining. I have found a small workaround for this. If you have a local Target and have either a Target Debit or Credit Card you can purchase Disney gift cards and save 5% on the purchase. Buy enough gift cards to cover the costs of meals and you have saved 5% off the top. The same can be used for purchasing merchandise.