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Will WDW's new $10-per-person cancellation fee prevent Guests from continuing to abuse the Resort's dining reservations system?

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Will WDW's new $10-per-person cancellation fee prevent Guests from continuing to abuse the Resort's dining reservations system?

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So what's the deal with that new dining reservations policy which The Walt Disney World Resort put in place earlier this week? Which states that ...

If a Guest cancels within one day of the reservation or if the dining party is a "no show" for the meal, a cancellation fee of $10 per person will be charged to the credit card used at the time of booking.

Now some will tell you that this is yet another example of Mickey being greedy. But that isn't really what's going on here. This recent change-in-dining-reservations-policy is actually Disney World's way of dealing with the pretty horrific no-show rate that the Resort's restaurants have begun experiencing over the past few years.

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Just ask any Food & Beverage veteran and they'll then tell horror stories about how seemingly hugely popular / hard-to-get-into WDW eateries like Le Cellier Steakhouse at Epcot and Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort have been experiencing nightly no-show rates that often range from 20 - 40%.

"And why aren't the Guests who've made these reservations actually showing up?," you ask. Well, some have legitimate excuses. Perhaps their child get sick and they then have to change their dinner plans at the very last minute. Or maybe they're unfamiliar with the Disney World transportation system and it then takes these Guests a lot longer to get across property than they had originally expected to. Which means that they'll then miss their dining reservation time.

To be honest, this change in WDW's dining reservation policy is not being made to penalize people like that. But - rather - that select group of Guests who have figured out how to game the system.

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To explain: To guarantee you and your family a seat at some of WDW's most popular restaurants, you often have to make dining reservations for these eateries six months ahead of time. But there are those who didn't like to have their vacation plans pinned down 180 days in advance who discovered that there was a flaw in Disney World's dining reservation system. One that it would actually allow you to book multiple reservations at different restaurants around the Resort on the exact same day.

So that's just what these Guests did. To give themselves some flexibility when it came to which theme park they could then go to on any given day of their vacation, they'd then make multiple dining reservations. Say - for example - booking a table for 4 at the Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom for 6 p.m. PLUS a table for 4 at Hollywood and Vine at Disney's Hollywood Studios for 6:15 p.m. PLUS another table for 4 at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at 6:30 p.m. all on the same night.

And the crew who worked at Disney's Dining Reservations office over on Kirkman Road would then treat each and every one of these reservations as if they were legit. So they'd send notice to each of these WDW eateries to please hold a table for 4 for that evening. Which these restaurants would then do for upwards of an hour because ... Well, this is Walt Disney World after all. And people who are unfamiliar with the layout of a particular theme park might then have trouble making it to that restaurant for the exact time of their reservation. Or the attraction that these Guests were riding on may have broken down. Or the monorail that these tourists were using to get over to that theme park may have been held for traffic clearance. You get the idea.

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So Disney would treat each of these booked-well-in-advance dining reservations as if there were real Guests out there somewhere who would eventually show up at that restaurant looking for a meal. But as more of these on-property eateries began not making their budgets because this persistent & growing no-show problem, the Mouse's accountants then realized that they now had a real problem on their hands.

Which they initially tried to address by jiggering the software that was used to power Disney's dining reservation system. Dropping in new bits of code which would then flag a reservation / reservations if it appeared that a Guest were booking tables at multiple restaurants in different theme parks or resorts for the exact same day or time.

What WDW's IT staff hadn't anticipated is that these same Guests would then learn to adapt, to exploit the flaws that still existed within the system. Take - for example - when the code was changed so that, say, if a Jim Hill made multiple reservations at different Disney World restaurants on a single day, that record would automatically get flagged. People figured ways around this roadblock by making one reservation under Jim Hill, the next under Jim Hill and a third under Jimmy Hill.

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Every time Disney tried to shut this select group of Guests who made multiple dining reservations down by insisting on additional information like home addresses and e-mail accounts at the time of booking, these folks just found yet another way around the new protocols (EX: transposing ing the numbers in their address and/or deliberately setting up new e-mail addresses that would then make it possible to book multiple dining reservations at WDW).

Now add to this the Guests who were just making phantom dining reservations at Chef Mickey's or 'Ohana so that they could then get free parking at Disney's Contemporary or Polynesian Resort ... And you then see why Disney felt that they had then no choice but to institute this new credit-card-based $10-per-person cancellation fee.

Now do keep in mind that this recent change in policy will have absolutely no effect on Guests who've already made dining reservations prior to October 26th. More to the point, given the current 180 day window that people have to make WDW dining reservations in, it'll be upwards of six months before we see if this $10-per-person actually has an impact on the 20 - 40% no-show rates that some of Disney World's most popular restaurants have been experiencing.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which - the Mouse is hoping - will then help the Resort deal with one of its more persistent Guest complaints. Which when people actually show up on time for their dining reservation and are then told that they'll have to wait 15 - 20 minutes because this restaurant is still holding tables open for Guests who, as it turns out, have made multiple dining reservations for that day and have no intention of ever showing up at that eatery.

So now that you've heard about why Walt Disney World is really making this change to its dining reservations system, are you more comfortable with the concept of this new credit-card-based $10-per-person cancellation fee? Or do you still view this recent change in policy as yet another greedy cash grab by the Mouse?

Your thoughts?

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  • What it demonstrates is that the entire system  is broken. Ordinary guests--the majority--will  now be punished because of the actions of a minority, which was created by the inane requirement of booking tables months in advance.

    I hate to say it, but from what I've heard of Next-Gen, Disney is actively trying to make visiting the parks as unpleasant as possible.

  • While I agree that it should be considered a common courtesy to cancel a dining reservation if you change your plans, I seriously doubt that no-shows have a negative impact on WDW restaurants. If you have ever tried to dine at the most popular restaurants without a reservation, you know it is almost impossible. Even with reservations you often have to wait a long time to be seated, leading me to believe that they overbook. Our trip last December coincided with record-breaking cold weather and by the end of the week my husband and I were both sick. We ended up cancelling our last two reservations several hours before, after it started raining. Had we incurred the fees they are now implementing, I would have been one very unhappy, sick guest.

    I really can’t see that it will make reservations easier to obtain. And if that is not the end result, it’s just another money-maker for Disney.

  • RE: Audrey: "I seriously doubt that no-shows have a negative impact on WDW restaurants."

    Okay. Work the math with me here. You have a Guest that has figured how to game the WDW dining reservations system. They book a table for 4 at the Crystal Palace, 'Ohana and the Brown Derby all at the same time and on the same night. And because they wind up visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios that day, this Guest and their family opts to go to the Brown Derby and blow off the additional dining reservations that they've made at the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Polynesian Resort.

    And because the hostesses at the Crystal Palace and 'Ohana assumes that these dinner reservations are legit and that this party of 4 will eventually show up, they hold that table (typically for about an hour) before it's then freed up and put back into the system. And given that there's a per-person cost per meal of $36 - $59.99 at the Crystal Palace and $15 - $35.99 at 'Ohana ... Well, multiply that times 4, and those two tables standing empty for an hour not being turned combined translates into a neat paper loss for WDW Food & Beverage of $200 - $400.

    Now take into consideration that this is happening multiple times per hour at restaurants all over property which have seemingly legitimate reservations on their books made by Guests who never have any intention of ever showing up ... And please keep in mind that every restaurant at WDW is its own individual profit center and now has a budget target that it's expected to hit every year. So holding those tables open for Guests that never show (which -- over an entire evening of business at some of WDW's larger. more popular restaurants  -- can then translated into 200+ seats each night that you could filled with paying customers but didn't) can eventually translate into some pretty serious potential income that Food & Beverage has missed out on.

    More to the point, let's remember that this isn't the first time that Disney has tried to shut down Guests who had figured out how to game WDW's dining reservations system. Remember how -- back in June of 2002 -- Disney began requiring a credit card deposit from anyone who was looking to book a character breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table. That was reportedly done in direct response to the "Howie's Angels" controversy, where this one group of individuals (who were supposedly doing this for altruistic reasons, rather than to turn a profit) had figured out how to snag most of the Priority Seating for this super-popular, very-much-in-demand Magic Kingdom dining experience.

    In short, Disney's putting this new $10-cancellation-fee policy because A) all of these phantom dining reservations that are currently clogging up WDW's system are preventing some of the more popular restaurants on property from reaching their real annual earnings potential and B) because once Food and Beverage can actually start seating Guests at these tables that they've been holding open for people who are never going to show up ... Well, that then means fewer people will have the same dining experience that you just had, Audrey (i.e. "even with reservations you often have to wait a long time to be seated").

    Okay. Now do you have a better understanding about why WDW made this particular policy change, the kind of  serious money that Food & Beverage was / is still losing every single day thanks to all of these bogus dining reservations? I hope so.

  • "...they hold that table (typically for about an hour) before it's then freed up and put back into the system. "  It sounds like WDW needs to take another lesson from Disneyland on reservations.  There have been a few times that I've arrived 5-10 minutes late for my reservation and when I tried to check in it was gone.  I was given the option of waiting in the regualr seating line (30-40 minute wait) or I could go somewhere else.  I would choose to go somewhere else.  Holding a table for an hour or even 30 minutes is absurd.  I don't think any good will come from the $10.00 cancellation charge as I think it's going to snag far more people that have a legitimate reason for not showing up than people abusing the system.

  • @Greg: But Disneyland is an entirely different animal.  To get to a restaurant in DLR, you either hop in your car and drive to the park or walk their from your hotel room.  There is no Disney transportation to slow you down.  At WDW, it can take a lot longer to get somewhere than someone would expect.  Plus, most DLR guests are repeat guests.  They know where things are and how to get there.  Where as most WDW guests are first timers.

  • I understand the $10.00 per person cancellation fee. I don't like it but I do understand it and if I were in Disney's shoes, I might do the same thing. Just my opinion.

  • I do, however see a potential way that guests could continue to abuse the situation. First, make multiple reservations. Then at the reserved time, show up at whatever restaurant you want too. Blow off the others. Then, to challenge the cancellation fees that you got, tell the person whom you call to complain too that your kid got sick. If they don't reverse the charge then threaten to take legal action. Most likely. Disney's legal department will order that the charges be dropped.

  • I gamed the system like crazy.  Daily breakfasts reses at Cape May and Ohana for parking, multiple dinner reses just in case we had a change in plan.  I did everything and anything to take advantage of the system.

    That being said, I love the new cancellation policy.  Its about time.  Disney dining should be taken seriously again.  

    Now they need to segment the dining plan based on meal, not location.  Either that, or blow it up.

  • To add to this story, I just got back this past weekend.  while there I tried to cancel a reservation at Chef Mickey's and move to Boma as we were planning on being at AK that day.  So they booked me into Boma and II asked if the other reservation was cancelled and they said not to bother because it would just expire.  So Disney has to take some of the blame.  This happened twice during our trip where we asked to cancel and they said not to bother.  However I have to agree get rid of people abusing the system.  At least the day of you might be able to get a reservation somewhere.  it has gotten way out of hand.  I worry the whole booking a time to ride 6 months out or meeting Mickey 6 months out is going to ruin any spontaneity at the parks.

  • I just wonder how often they will waive the cancellation fee for the "legitimate" excuses....

    There will be a lot of peeved families if they get charged $30-$50 because 1 of the kids had a last minute stomach bug.  Or if the monorail broke down.

  • I am not a fan of making reservations months before my arrival. I like to decide during my visit and go with my mood. Since the advanced reservation changes this rarely works. You should only be allowed to make reservations only after check-in and use a code from your keycard for validation and for people not onsite only allow short-term reservations with a credit card. I know I'm in the minority. Disney seems to want your whole vacation scheduled before you arrive and this doesn't work for me at all.

  • "Guests that never show (which -- over an entire evening of business at some of WDW's larger. more popular restaurants  -- can then translated into 200+ seats each night that you could filled with paying customers but didn't) can eventually translate into some pretty serious potential income that Food & Beverage has missed out on."

    This scenario would be easier to believe if we had ever, in our many trips to WDW, been able to just walk-up and be seated at any of the more popular restaurants.  It's never happened  and we have tried many, many times! All of our visits have been during times with less crowds. I can't imagine what it would be like during peak seasons.  Maybe people have just given up trying to get walk-up seating and that is why they supposedly don't fill the no-show seats.

    There are those who will always find a way to abuse the system, whether it be WDW dining reservations or welfare.  The sad thing is that these people cause policy to be set that punishes the innocent as well.  

    I do not totally disagree with the new cancellation policy, but I do think the 24 hour window is too much.  Our children are grown, but I remember the unpredictability of traveling with little ones.  They can get tired, fussy, or sick at the drop of a hat and, as a fellow guest, I would much prefer parents be able to cancel a reservation at the last minute than feel as if they have to show up and possibly ruin the experience for other diners.  If guests were required to cancel, whether it be 24 hours before or 10 minutes before, it would serve the purpose of opening up seating for last minute reservations or for walk-up seating.  So, sure, charge a fee if they don't cancel, but realize that a lot can change in 24 hours,

  • I can understand the fee for no-shows but I don't think it will fly for short notice cancellations. Disney is a theme park and things can happen. Child got sick, monorail broke down, you could be stuck on "It's a Small World", etc... I predict that they will get tired of fielding phone calls disputing the cancellation fees and that part will change. I do agree with charging people for not showing up since that is just downright rude. Unless someone has died I think one could take a minute to cancel a dinner reservation. It could turn out to be a costly etiquette lesson but there are a bunch of people who could certainly use it!

    Truthfully though, I've eaten at some of the best restaurants at Disney and NEVER had to make reservations months in advance. Maybe I'm just lucky.

  • Holding a table for one hour doesn't make sense. A patron that expects to be served at 6pm should not be expected to be served at 7pm. American restaurants should be considered punctual unlike European restaurants. Tables should not be held at all for late arrivals. Let the guests know that when they're late, they might have to wait. Disney could have solved this problem a long time ago by merely changing the rules.

    All guests with reservations are required to check within a half hour interval of their reservations. For example, if Dinner reservations is at 6pm, they must check in at 5:30 to 6pm. If they do show up at 6:01pm and the place is so crowded that it gets taken, then they will be asked to wait until 7pm. Supposing this 20 - 40% no show holds up, this person will get seated.

    The huge expanse of the resort is no excuse. If you made the reservation, you should know where it is.  Disney should be catering to same day park arrivals by making more standbys available.

  • I agree with Disney and see the point of what they are doing.  There are always going to be some people who look to "cheat" the system.  I would be willing to be that these same people will continue to make multiple reservations in advance and then a day or two prior to the ADR they will cancel.  They still have their options open to them and won't lose the $10 / person.

    This will have the effect of letting you book a reservation a day or two prior to when you want to eat...you will need to check for open reservations.  This also explains why if you call the Disney for a reservation on the same day you are told there is nothing available but if you walk up you may get seated.  

    On one of my back stage tours (Epcot) the Disney Cast Member stated that the restaurants know what the average No-Show rate is based on the season and was adjusting the seating based on the experienced No-Shows.  

    I can't argue with what Disney is doing and hopefully this will create more opportunities for others to get dining reservations.


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