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Food for Thought : Universal's BK WHOPPER Bar opens, "Ratatouille" animatronic arrives at Epcot and Character Dining returns to the Liberty Tree Tavern

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Food for Thought : Universal's BK WHOPPER Bar opens, "Ratatouille" animatronic arrives at Epcot and Character Dining returns to the Liberty Tree Tavern

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The world’s economic woes have obviously had a huge impact on Central Florida’s themed entertainment business. But the one sector that’s been hit particularly hard these past few months is food service.

You see, those who can still afford to go to Disney, Universal & SeaWorld are now paying very close attention to what they spend while they’re there. Which is why a lot of these folks are avoiding sit-down meals at the theme parks and opting to go with counter service instead. Or – worse than that -- just abstaining from purchasing large amounts of food while they’re on property. Preferring to wait ‘til they can get to the more affordable fare found out along 192 & International Drive.

So in order to get those Guests to crack open their wallets and actually pay for a meal while they’re still on property, area resorts have had to become a bit more creative. Find unique new ways to compete with all those lower-priced restaurants found just off-property.

In the case of the Universal Orlando Resort, this meant offering a dining alternative that couldn’t be found out along Kirkman Road. Which is why – with the help of the Burger King Corporation – Universal opened the World’s first WHOPPER Bar restaurant this past Tuesday.

The Burger King and his Burger Babes were on hand for the opening of
Universal CityWalk's newest concept restaurant.
Photo by Angela Ragno 

Located in the CityWalk section of that Resort, the WHOPPER Bar restaurant really takes the whole “Have It Your Way” concept to new heights. With Burger-lovers now being able to choose between 22 different toppings (among them smoked bacon, Angry onions and guacamole) and then having their sandwich built to order by a WHOPPER-ista.

Meanwhile, over at Epcot’s Les Chefs de France … Well, Disney knows better than to mess with the nouvelle cuisine that this restaurant’s three internationally acclaimed chefs -- Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge, and Gaston LeNotre – serve up. But that said, Les Chefs de France is still one of the most expensive restaurants found in that theme park. And given that Guests are really watching their money these days, Disney World officials felt that they had to come up with a strong new draw for this France pavilion restaurant.

Which is why – this past Monday -- Remy from “Ratatouille” began making appearances at Les Chefs de France. And – no – I’m not talking about some sweaty teenager in a walk-around Remy costume. I’m talking about the latest application of Disney’s Living Character Initiative program. Which first started entertaining diners at Walt Disney StudiosRendez-Vous des Stars restaurant last summer.

Be warned, though. This itty-bitty animatronic Remy is scheduled to make his last appearance at Epcot on September 10th. So if you want to be entertained by Little Chef while you’re dining at Les Chef de France, you’d best make some reservations ASAP.

Pixar's petit star served up on a silver platter.
Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

And speaking of characters disappearing … Many Magic Kingdom fans were saddened when the Liberty Tree Tavern stopped serving its Goofy’s Liberate Your Appetite Character Dinner back on January 4th. So much so that a significant number of them actually stopped going to this WDW eatery.

Consequently, the Liberty Tree Tavern went from being a restaurant that literally did turn away business to becoming one that wound up with almost 100 empty seats every night. Which then translated into a $250,000 drop in revenues for both the months of January and February.

In the face of those sorts of losses … WDW officials had to admit that they’d made a mistake. Which is why – just last week – Magic Kingdom managers quietly okayed the return of character dining at the Liberty Tree Tavern.

Mind you, Goofy and his friends won’t be returning immediately. These managers first had to amend that theme park’s global schedule bid. In essence put in a staffing requisition for the proper number of Zoo Crew members necessary to staff a character dining venue like Liberty Tree Tavern.

Please raise your hand if you're happy to hear that character dining will soon
return to the Liberty Tree Tavern. Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Then – given that there are Cast Members who literally performed as characters at this Magic Kingdom eatery for years – WDW officials would like to give these veteran performers first crack at their old jobs and then fill any vacant positions.

Anyway … Long story short, what with all of the staffing issues and scheduling changes involved with bringing character dining back to the Liberty Tree Tavern, it may take as long as the second weekend of April (To be specific, Easter) before Goofy’s Liberate Your Appetite Character Dinner is up and running again.

And just so you know, this news has not been officially announced yet. So if you call (407) WDW-DINE today and then tell them you're looking to make reservations for character dining at the Liberty Tree Tavern, that call center rep is not going to know what the heck you're talking about. But trust me, folks. These WDW Cast Members will be brought up to speed shortly. So if you're looking to Liberate Your Appetite anytime soon, you'd best make some reservations ASAP.

Anywho ... Given that all Disneyana fans seem to do online these days is complain about high costs and/or cutbacks at the Parks, I just thought it might be nice to share some news about something that had once been cut but is now on its way back.

Your thoughts?

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  • Stupid idea to take it out in the first place.

  • The Remy character seems cool.  What's uncool is that it is a temporary thing.

  • I'm disappointed.  I was looking forward to dining at the LTT for the first time in September, and was glad to find out it would be character-free.

  • I'm happy to hear that Disney can admit when they make a mistake. I've never dined at Liberty Tree simply because there are options in and around MK that appeal much more to my palate, but I'm glad to hear they brought back the characters for those who enjoyed them.

    Now if only they could take the same philosophy with the Adventurers Club and Comedy Warehouse...

  • Glad they brought back the character to LTT. I emailed to Disney my disappointment with them leaving. I also showed Disney with my wallet by eating at Crystal Palace a couple of times instead of LTT. Although I like the food & service better at LTT my kids wanted the character interaction. That also gave us more time to sit and relax to enjoy our meal since the kids are done eating in 5 minutes whereas we like to take our time. Good move by Disney to correct!

  • LtPowers, you can experience LTT sans characters by eating during the day.

  • I appreciate that, PintoColvig, but the lunch menu doesn't seem quite as appealing.

  • Hey!  I have a great idea!  Let's take our French restaurant and put a RAT in it.  Yes!  That's a brilliant move, speaking highly of our attempts to create authentic cuisine over our blatant desire for synergizing.  Also, we should consider putting bugs into one of our restaurants, because Pixar made that bug movie.  They'd go great over at the Garden Grill -- we'll have bugs crawling up the trees to go with rats in the kitchen over in World Showcase.  YES!!

  • I'm mildly put-off by the phrase: "And – no – I’m not talking about some sweaty teenager in a walk-around Remy costume."

    Those who perform in the role of a Disney character are professional entertainers. They work hard (for a rather mediocre wage) and, more often than not, create a sizable number of indellible memories for families visiting the Disney theme parks.

    Perhaps we should strive not to discount their efforts with such a trite, cynical comment.

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