Should Disney Bring Back the Dining Plan?
When Walt Disney World reopened last summer, it lacked a favorite upcharge for many Disney fans.
For several reasons, management didn’t feel comfortable offering the Disney Dining Plan for customers.
During the seven months that have followed, park visitors have gotten used to paying the usual way. And that leads to a logical question.
Should Disney bring back its dining plans?
What Is the Disney Dining Plan?
Walt Disney World restaurants slot into two categories. The grab-and-go counter eateries are Quick Service establishments.
The fine dining options at Walt Disney World, the kind with waitstaff and Advanced Dining Reservations, are Table Service Restaurants.
Obviously, when you dine at any of these places, you pay for the meal either before or afterward.
For many guests, this solution isn’t ideal. Yes, it’s how the real world works. However, Disney is full of magic. Tourists expect more there.
Throughout the years, Disney has provided an add-on to satisfy those guests.
The Disney Dining Plan allows guests to pay for their entire vacation meal budget ahead of time.
Several different dining plans have been available over the years. The most straightforward one provides a person with two daily meal credits.
You get to eat one Quick Service meal and one Table Service meal each day of your visit.
When you buy a dining plan, it applies to every member of your traveling party, i.e., the people staying in your hotel room.
With these dining credits, you effectively don’t pay for food during your visit. Instead, you buy the Disney Dining Plan ahead of time.
Then, when the bill comes to your table, you scan your Magic Band rather than taking out your wallet.
Your allotted entitlements pay for the meal.
Why Was the Disney Dining Plan So Divisive?
For many guests, the dining plan saved us from worrying about our budget during the trip.
When a server hands you a bill that says “one entitlement” instead of “Amount due: $39.99,” it eliminates the stress.
Many frequent Disney guests swear by the dining plan as the best way to enjoy a stress-free vacation.
However, others dislike the one-size-fits-all nature of the Disney Dining Plan.
To them, these plans bring additional stress rather than relief.
You must track your available entitlements, and you must pick restaurants appropriately.
Let’s say that you’re traveling alone and staying for six nights. You’ll receive six Table Service and six Quick Service entitlements for your trip.
What happens if you prefer Table Service meals and eat eight of them? You must pay for the extras out of pocket.
Simultaneously, you’ve wasted two Quick Service entitlements that you didn’t use.
Also, many guests feel strongly that dining plans come with a high level of gluttony.
While the dining plans have varied over the years, they sometimes come with an appetizer AND a dessert as part of the entitlement.
So, you’re eating a three-course meal every time, which does lead to the occasional feeling of overdoing it.
When you stay longer, you also tend to waste more dining credits. The counter/sit-down meal balance becomes more challenging to maintain.
In other words, the dining plan is very good, but it’s imperfect.
Wasn’t the Disney Dining Plan Free?
Yes and no. I’ve mentioned paying for the dining plan. That’s something of a half-truth.
Walt Disney World frequently offers the Free Dining package to park guests. I’m not overstating the situation to say that it’s THE most popular package.
In fact, Disney has altered policies many times over the years to allow for the sustained interest in the Free Dining offer.
The program is generally available at specific times of the year. Disney chooses these weeks to increase park attendance during slow periods.
Still, the Free Dining package isn’t the way that most guests get the dining plan. Folks like me love it so much that we happily pay out of pocket.
So, the answer is that it can be free but isn’t always.
Why Did Disney Eliminate the Disney Dining Plan?
Like so many questions about 2020 theme park changes, the explanation involves the pandemic.
Before Coronavirus shut down society, Walt Disney World restaurants were soaring in popularity.
Park officials had implemented more stringent policies to protect Advanced Dining Reservations.
They’d done this because such reservations had grown so challenging to book. Walt Disney World has evolved into a haven for foodies.
Restaurants on the Disney campus operated at or near capacity on many days, but then everything changed last March.
When Walt Disney World reopened in July, the parks operated at 25 percent capacity. They’ve only recently reached 35 percent.
In other words, Walt Disney World features three times as many stores and restaurants as it needs.
Obviously, Disney didn’t open many of these places because they’d go unused.
Simultaneously, Disney emphasized Mobile Ordering, a digital method for picking out and paying for food.
When Mobile Ordering debuted, it didn’t even accept the Disney Dining Plan. Developers added that functionality later, but it reveals a way of thinking.
Mobile Ordering primarily caters to Quick Service restaurants. Well, due to COVID-19 concerns, dining indoors isn’t as safe.
So, Disney understandably pushed guests toward Mobile Ordering during the early days.
Almost as importantly, Walt Disney World restaurants are operating with capacity limits, just like the parks.
With fewer tables available, the Disney Dining Plan would have created another layer of considerations at a time when park officials needed simplicity.
Should Disney Bring Back the Dining Plan?
Yes. And Disney WILL bring back its dining plans at some point.
The undeniable truth is that, like Park Hopping, the Disney Dining Plan generates a significant amount of profit. Also, customers adore it.
Alas, few tourists are capable of maxing out the potential benefits of the program.
MickeyBlog has written several helpful guides to do so. The comments section always includes people saying, “I had no idea you could do that!”
Many people receive the dining plan but allow entitlements to expire unused.
Each time that happens, Disney has received money for food it never served. That’s an extremely lucrative business model.
From a customer perspective, the Disney Dining Plan still possesses all the positives that have made it so popular throughout the years.
The inconveniences of the pandemic will subside at some date in the future. At that point, Disney will return to business as usual.
However, this question applies more to 2021 and 2022.
When can Disney safely bring back the Disney Dining Plan? That’s a more mercurial topic.
Disney remains at the mercy of the vaccination program, both in the United States and abroad.
Remember that tourists comprise a larger percentage of Walt Disney World visitors than at Disneyland.
Realistically, capacity limits prevent the dining plan from returning. It would cause too much aggravation.
Since Disney usually sells the Free Dining package well ahead of guest arrival, it’s probably not going to be available in 2021.
My current expectation is that the Disney Dining Plan returns in time for the 2022 tourist season. I’d like to be wrong, though.
Given the program’s innate profitability, Disney could spring a (pleasant) surprise, though. Let’s all root for that!