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Monday Mouse Watch : Changes to Disney Dining Plan infuriate WDW guests

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Monday Mouse Watch : Changes to Disney Dining Plan infuriate WDW guests

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There are many things that one might expect to hear at a full-service eatery at the Walt Disney World Resort. An attentive server asking a guest if they can get them another Coke. Or an anxious parent -- as they clutch their camera -- asking when's Mickey going to come through the restaurant again.

But what you don't expect to hear is a patron swearing at the top of their lungs at a WDW restaurant manager over something they just found on their bill.

Yet over the past seven days, this scene has been repeatedly at Disney World eateries. With Security having to be called in several cases in order to deal with these irate customers. All because these WDW visitors are furious with the changes that have recently been made to the Disney Dining Plan.

"And what's the Disney Dining Plan?," you ask. Much like Disney's Magical Express Transportation, it is yet another of the Mouse's ingenious schemes to keep WDW guests (more importantly, their wallets) on property. Preventing them from wandering on down the road and then spending their dough at the SeaWorld Adventure Park or the Universal Orlando Resort.

 Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Initially introduced back in 2005, the Disney Dining Plan was an add-on offered to WDW resort guests who were booking a "Magic Your Way" vacation package. For one set price (initially $35 per day for adults and $10 per day for children ages 9 & under), Disney World visitors could then enjoy one table-service meal, one counter-service meal and one snack every day over the course of their vacation.

And right from the get-go, WDW guests just loved the Disney Dining Plan for its ease & convenience. Particularly because this "Magic Your Way" add-on covered the gratuity and all taxes at the resort's table-service restaurants. Which meant that -- at the end of the meal -- all you had to do was hand your room key over to your server. He or she would then bring you back a receipt that showed how many credits you had left on your Dining Plan. And you were then free to head back into the parks and continue with your vacation.

And WDW managers ... They loved the Disney Dining Plan too. Mostly because guests who prepurchased this Plan knew that all of their credits would expire at 11:59 p.m. on the day that they checked out of their WDW resort. So in order to get the most out of the Disney Dining Plan, that meant that these folks had to eat every single meal on property. Which didn't leave them all that much time to go off property and explore the rest of Orlando.

This meant that WDW's theme parks, shops and recreational facilities were reaping the rewards of all these trapped-on-property guests. The only problem was -- given that they were now dealing with thousands of additional customers each day who were eating significantly discounted meals -- the Food Service side of things at Walt Disney World was really taking it in the shorts here.

 Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

From what I hear, the Disney Dining Plan was actually causing WDW Food Service to lose money. That the sheer number of additional patrons who were being served discounted meals every day meant that Disney World's 60+ table-service restaurants were now working much harder to earn far less. Which is why Disney World managers then insisted that the Dining Plan had to be changed for 2008. So that Food Service could then begin to benefit from this extremely popular "Magic Your Way" add-on.

Which is why -- starting on January 1, 2008 -- the "appetizer included" & "gratuity included" features that had previously been offered as part of the table-service-meals portion of the Disney Dining Plan were dropped. To reflect this change, Mickey did lower the price of this "Magic Your Way" add-on from $38.99 to $37.99. But that one dollar price difference wasn't enough to placate WDW visitors last week. Many of whom had booked the 2008 version of the Disney Dining Plan because of the ease & convenience that they'd enjoyed while using this same system on previous WDW trips.

And then -- when these folks saw a specific line on their bill that said that the Disney Dining Plan no longer covered gratuity ... Well, they went nuts. As one veteran Food Service staffer told me this past weekend:

"People have been absolutely furious about this change. Most of the guests that I've been dealing are people have previously been to the resort and are used to the earlier version of the Dining Plan. So they're coming into this situation with certain expectations. Which is why they get really angry when we hand them a bill that now asks them to cover the gratuity.

 Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

A lot of these people are insisting that -- when they booked this add-on for their 'Magic Your Way' vacation package -- that no one at Central Reservations ever told them about there being any changes made to the Disney Dining Plan program. Which is why they now feel blindsided by this whole "appetizer not included" / "gratuity not included" thing.

Our managers are totally caught in the middle here. They're the one who have been tasked with implementing this new policy. But -- at the same time -- they're the ones who are supposed to keep the guests happy. Which is why -- right now -- all we're able to do is send patrons who complain over to Guest Relations. Have them lodge a formal complaint there about the changes that have been made to the Dining Plan.

But from what I hear, people are complaining all over property. The frontline staff -- the servers and the managers -- are taking an awful lot of abuse from angry WDW guests who weren't expecting to pay gratuities on any of the table-service meals that they eat over the course of their Disney World vacations. That's why they signed up for the Disney Dining Plan in the first place. For its ease and its convenience. And to now find out now that -- in addition to handing over their room key -- they've also got to hand over a credit card or a wad of cash in order to cover the tip is sending some of these folks right over the edge.

 Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

The worst part of all this is that a lot of these guests are now taking this change in the Disney Dining Plan out on their servers. They're storming out of these restaurants and not tipping their waiters at all. And these people actually earn their living through tips. So this change in the Dining Plan could wind up hurting a whole lot of WDW cast members who can't really afford to have their wages drop."

According to my sources at the resort, there have been so many complaints so far from guests who have previously been to WDW and now feel that this new version of the Disney Dining Plan is a complete rip-off that Mouse House managers have begun a running tally of these complaints. They're also keeping tabs on the amount of "compensation" that restaurant managers have had to hand out in order to placate guests over the past seven days. And the word is that the Mouse intends to keep track of these Dining Plan-related complaints in the weeks and months ahead. So that management can then have some hard numbers to work with, should they ever decide to rethink the changes that have recently been made to the Disney Dining Plan.

Disney -- for its part -- insists that this "Magic Your Way" add-on is still a great value. Which is why -- over at the official Walt Disney World Resort website -- the company insists that would-be WDW visitors shouldn't ...

" ... miss out ! To save up to 40% on all your Disney Dining needs — and to experience the convenience of pre-paid dining — be sure to purchase the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining when staying at a select Walt Disney World Resort hotel."

 Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Of course, the way guests who had previously visited WDW see this situation is that the Disney Dining Plan was a far better "Magic Your Way" add-on when it still included appetizer & gratuity. More to the point, a lot of these people say that they'd be perfectly happy to pay more for the 2008 version of the Plan if Disney would just fold those two features back into the table-service-meal portion of the Dining Plan.

But for now, Disney is just going to stand pat. See if these complaints eventually fade away. But as for the restaurant managers (Who have to deal daily with all these angry customers) and as for the poor servers (Who -- in many cases -- have already seen a significant drop in their tips), Mickey can't revert to the old policy fast enough.

So what do you folks think ? Should the folks over at Central Reservations done a better job in getting the word out to guests booking 2008 vacation packages about the coming change to the Disney Dining Plan ? Or was it a mistake in the first place for the Mouse to cut the "appetizer & gratuity included" feature out of the table-service-meal portion of this "Magic Your Way" add-on?

Your thoughts?

And speaking of tips ... If you'd like to help support this website, then why not start out your next Amazon.com shopping spree by clicking on the above banner? If you do that ... Well, JHM then gets a tiny little portion of whatever you spend. Which is sort of like a tip.

Anyway ... Thanks in advance for your most gracious gratuity.

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  • These changes are absolutely ridiculous, and Disney had to know something like this would happen. Never try to charge people for something they had previously perceived as free. The whole point of the DDP was, in addition to saving money and keeping guests on property, making dining easy. This had made it anything but.

  • This was a big mistake ... corporate would have done much better to increase the price and continue to operate the program as it had successfully been doing ...

    I suspect many guests feel like they open up their wallets or pull out a credit card enough times during a stay at the WDW Resort ... and now -- especially if they've taken advantage of this is the past -- they're rightfully upset by a change that they likely weren't told about when they booked their vacations.

    What's next? Charging full admission each and every day at every park or bringing back ticket books that limit guests to 11 to 15 attractions without additional payments?

  • I don't find any of this surprising.  Big corporations are always looking at the bottom line.  I think corporate would expect such complaints at first, but as time goes on and people continue to buy the dining plan, this will just become another faded memory for them and they will continue to rake in the customers.

  • Disney could raise it to 45-50 dollars and have people still paying for it... they should raise the prices...  , bring back at the very least the gratituity.. and the appetizer but on the other hand understanding the customer maybe they dont feel the server is worth the 20 percent maybe they had a bad experience no one should be forced to pay that specific percent if it wasnt a good experience

  • It amazes me that this is what is posted on the WDW site as of this morning.

    "From savory snacks and quick meals, to Disney Signature restaurants and our famous Character Dining, experience the freedom of choosing from over 100 select restaurants throughout Walt Disney World® Resort to fit your family's ever-changing tastes during your vacation. Best of all, enjoy the convenience and peace of mind in knowing that most of your meals are paid for in advance, including gratuities where applicable."

    Disney should have done a better job of advertising the changes to the guests. Most of the guests are not Disney fanatics, I had to really search for the above quote on their website. My wife and I knew about this 6 months ago. (Only because we eat sleep and breathe all things Disney) Sad to say but you could see this coming. I feel so bad for the servers I hope they don't start to treat the people with the dinning plans a little differently thinking they might not be compensated for their hard work.

  • There's no way Disney Dining can be surprised by these changes.  People have been complaining about the upcoming changes for MONTHS!  So there's no sympathy for the mouse on this one, now that the implementation date is here.

    I understand the business side of it, but I think the right thing to do would be to:

    * keep the plan truly "prepaid" - you paid in advance, you don't have to pay more for the tip at the end of the meal - keep tips included in the price of the plan

    * make it either "appetizer" or "dessert" included - not both.  The plan included way too much food before, and too much was wasted.

    * raise the price as necessary to make it work for all concerned parties long term.

    I loved the old dining plan as much as anybody, but the restaurants have been way too impacted by the DDP and it needed to change.  But don't be stupid about it!

    Sue in Texas

  • Quite honestly I don't believe you could raise the price and not have people complain.  It's what they do.  Raise the price, they will complain.  Change anything they will complain.  If the food service side was not making money then changes would have to happen and fast.  There was just too much food included and folks ordered because they could and wasted a lot of food.  Again everyone did it to themselves on this one.

    Yes, they should have communicated it properly and grandfathered folks who already booked making for a smooth transition.  I agree with SueinTX.  This was a no brainer and they were stupid about it.

    As a local, I hate the DDP since it occupies every seat so you can never call up in the same week and expect to get in.  As a local we actually don't eat at the table restaurants since we can never get in or plan our day accordingly and eat off property for less.

  • This has been a foregone conclusion on the web since they announced the changes.  And you notice what is riling folks the MOST.  The TIP being removed.  Apparently that was removed due to a UNION demand.  So now the union can deal with it's members being furious with not getting ANY tip. Nice going union!

    And what about the appetizer? Are people ordering it because they assume it's part of the plan and then getting annoyed when they get presented a bill?

    Dining has done a terrible job of informing folks.  And those of us who do know are avoiding the new plan.  So this whole thing is going to blow up in their faces.

    I agree that that they could have just raised the price. It would still be a decent deal, and frankly, my favorite part was not having to think about the price of what I ordered, not have to worry about the tip, and just the overall convenience.  Which has now been reduced.

  • While some people would have been furious in a raise in the price, at least it would not have been taken out on the restaurant staff in the same fashion; if they raised the price, people would have known about it LONG before they set foot in the restaurant and agreed to it with full knowledge.  I've used the dining plan several times and unless Disney put a huge neon flashing sign on its site or a cast member told me of the changes when I booked my trip, I too would have figured it was the same problem.  I would not have noted the dollar difference to set off any red flags, that is for sure.

    I can also say I would have VERY happily paid $45 or $50 a person for the plan if it kept the appetizer and gratuity, especially if it brought back the quality that we enjoyed when it was Magical Wishes, for example.  I was getting quite tired of shaking my head that the Coral Reef is down to only four very cheaply made and generic seafood dishes . . . at a seafood restauraunt.  Yes, we were making out like bandits at times at the corporation's expense based on the menu prices (though obviously not on the raw cost of the food), and it had to change.   But they could have thought about this much more.

    What I don't understand is why the servers didn't speak up in opposition to losing the gratuity.  I know that a LOT of people on the Dining Plan tipped their server over and above the included gratuity, either because their server did an excellent job or simply because they didn't even realize the gratuity was included.  

  • Removing the tip was a union demand?  What's the source for that statement?  That's the first I've heard of it.  Somehow that doesn't sound right....

    In any event, I agree with the previous poster who suggested including appetizer or dessert, but not both.  Both was way too much food.  As far as tip:  I always tipped extra anyway (if the service warranted it), and I'm of mixed mind about including it or not.  There's the one school of thought that says that, since the tip was automatically included, service would decline -- why should the server provide good service when they're going to get a tip, good or not?  For myself, I never saw that to be the case (except for one instance, but that was certainly the exception).  But then the other school of thought says that if the plan is meant to be all-inclusive, it should include everything.  

    In advance of this change there was a lot of speculation that servers would end up getting stiffed, and I guess that speculation has now turned into reality.  For myself, I don't really mind either way -- in some ways I like being in control of how much tip my server gets.  Perhaps there could be a choice there as well:  a basic dining plan that does not include tip, and a higher level one that does.  The dining plan already does have tiers, so perhaps the tip/no tip option could be rolled into that?

  • I have to side with Disney on this one - the current Disney Dining Plan (DDP) fills up restaurants to capacity on just about every night, they don't need to continue losing money to convince folks to sign up for this deal (on a cynical note, the usual Disney strategy of "charging what the market will bear" works here too.)

    Destino's assertion that the unions complained makes sense too.  My guess is the old "tip included" DDP broke down daily costs for each meal segment, and food services were reimbursed a set value for each meal voucher used.  It could be someting like $1 for each snack, $8 for counter service and $30 for table service meal (which would further break down to $26 for the meal, $4 for a 15% tip).  So if folks went to a higher end restaurant and ordered $40 - $50 food, their server would end up with a set tip of about $4 --possibly 10% or less (if my assumptions are near correct).  Yes, these are guesses - but I just can't see Disney stating 'this is an expensive restaurant, we'll take lower meal costs so the servers can earn closer to their normal tip wages'.  The servers (and by direct association, their unions) would be surely be upset about an arrangement with fixed and/or discounted tips.

    For Disney to adjust prices to address tipping inequity and include this in the base cost, they'd need to figure out an average check cost and assume some level of service (15%? 18%? 20%?).  The downside is that folks at less expensive restaurants are now subsidizing checks at the higher cost restaurants, and great servers continue to receive the same tip as crappy servers.

    The fairest solution is what Disney has done - step away from the tipping situation and return it to the guests.  If you eat at a more expensive restaurant, your overall dining costs will go up so the server isn't getting stiffed by a fixed DDP reimbursement.  If you get lousy service, your DDP costs won't force you to pay a new preset rate - you can tip what you feel is fair, same as any non-WDW restaurant.

  • I have to say, I just took a short 4 day trip to the World and didn't opt for the dining plan this time and we didn't miss it. We ate less because we didn't feel we had to use our credits. I can't tell you how many carrot cakes I had in our Port Orleans fridge the last time we were there on the dining plan, most of which got thrown out. We spent less time eating and more time enjoying the holiday decorations, which is why we went in the first place. We also felt like we weren't so scheduled, because we weren't constantly worried about the next meal. If we weren't so hungry we ate light and didn't worry that we were wasting our credits.

    I love all the dining choices down there and many of the restaurants are my favorite anywhere, but the dining plan is ruining the dining experience at WDW. 2 months in advance and I can't get a reservation, just about anywhere on property? I'd rather pay full price and relax.

  • IIRC, the "union made us do this" excuse had more to do with the mandatory tip being added to the Disney Dining Experience, not the removal of the tip from the DDP.  And frankly, I do consider it an excuse - the WDW execs didn't eliminate the included tips to placate servers who felt they weren't getting enough money, they did it to increase the profit margin on the DDP.

    If they really wanted to save money, in addition to eliminating the appetizer they should have eliminated the desserts at the theme park counter service restaurants. Instead, someone came up with the brilliant idea of serving pre-packaged desserts made by an outside vendor, which are so awful that my fiancee and I stopped ordering desserts at those restaurants.  Tensik's suggestion of a choice between an appetizer or a dessert on the DDP would have been a good solution, too.

  • This sounds like a typical case of vacationers acting like gigantic BLEEPS because, what the hey, I'm on vacation I can do WHATEVER I WANT. People are surprised that there has been a change to a Disney plan? What planet have they been living on?? They change ticket prices several times a year. If this is someone who has used the plan before than I assume they at least have some knowledge of how the parks work. It is up to you, Mr. John Q. Traveler, do find out what changes have been made since your last visit. There are plenty of online sources (this one included) that can provide you with up to the second information. This price still sounds ridiculously cheap, and now I understand why that I, as a local, have such a hard time getting into the top eateries, even during non-peak times. If someone has to tack on another $15 bucks they are still coming out way, way ahead had they paid cash for all the meals. It's to the point where you can't offer any good deals to a tourist because as soon as that deal expires they are going go crazy.

  • I wish Disney would have killed the plan altogether.  The overall variety of the food at the parks have definitely been reduced since dining was started.

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