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WDW's "Be Our Guest" restaurant really is putting its servers to the test

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WDW's "Be Our Guest" restaurant really is putting its servers to the test

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When many Guests enter New Fantasyland at The Magic Kingdom and see the Beast's Castle looming in the distance, their initial thought is "Ooh! I wanna go on that ride."

Which explains that trio of Cast Members that you'll typically find stationed along the bridge that leads up to this impressive-looking structure. As these folks cheerily explain to all those looking to enter this building's queue (especially when lunch is being served), "Be Our Guest" isn't really an attraction. But -- rather -- a dining experience.

Mind you, the Imagineers hadn't planned on staffing "Be Our Guest" 's entrance bridge when they initially designed this enormous eatery. But as has been the case with a lot of the day-to-day operational issues associated withnthis New Fantasyland restaurant, "Be Our Guest" has been kind of a learn-as-you-go experience for everyone involved with the official launch / initial break-in period of this massive new restaurant.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Don't get me wrong. When it comes to theming & detailing (not to mention the amazing cutting-edge technology that powers the lunchtime dining experience at "Be Our Guest"), this New Fantasyland restaurant is second to none. If anything, the Imagineers may have done the whole theming & detail thing a little TOO well.

Case in point: This restaurant's West Wing area. In order to accommodate the numerous light-driven effects (which happen on a 15 minute-long cycle, by the way) that happen in this section of "Be Our Guest," the West Wing is deliberately kept dark. How dark? So dark that the servers who work in this room during dinnertime were recently issued flashlights, so that they can then help Guests who have been genuinely struggling to read their menus in the extremely dim lighting in this part of the restaurant.

And speaking of that 15 minute-long cycle ... Guests who get seated in the West Wing tend to linger a lot longer over dinner (i.e. two hours versus an hour and a half. Which is how long a WDW visitor who's seated in "Be Our Guest" 's ballroom area typically dawdles over their dinner at this elaborately themed eatery). If only because these Guests want to be sure that they've see all of the effects in action (EX: the petals dropping off of the enchanted rose, the lightning strike that transforms the Prince's face in that painting to the face of the Beast) before they then vacate the premises.

Photo by David Roark. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which wouldn't be a problem (After all, the Imagineers put all of these details in here because they wanted people to soak up this romantic atmosphere, feel like they'd walked straight into this classic Disney animated feature). Except for the fact that when Walt Disney World began taking dinner reservations for "Be Our Guest" back in August, the assumption was that the longest that people would typically take to do dinner at this New Fantasyland restaurant was an hour and 15 minutes.

So as you can imagine, with people hanging on at "Be Our Guest" for 15 - 45 minutes longer than expected, the impact that this is having on WDW visitors who have reserved the later seating times at this highly themed eatery is pretty significant. I've heard stories of some Guests who were finally seated an hour and a half to two hours after their original seating time.

So what is management of "Be Our Guest" doing to try and alleviate this issue? To be honest, given that Walt Disney World's dining reservations can now be booked six months in advance, there isn't a lot that they can do right now other than just muddle through. Do what they can to accommodate the Guests who have already booked reservations for this New Fantasyland restaurant (EX: If you show up at 3:30 p.m.  for a 4 p.m. dinner reservation, the staff at "Be Our Guest" will then make every effort to seat you and your party immediately. With the hope that this will then get you in & out of their eatery that much quicker) while at the same time cutting back on the number of seatings that will be available for booking at "Be Our Guest" starting in mid-2013.

Photo by David Roark. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now what's kind of interesting about this extra 15-to-45 minutes that people have been dawdling over dinner at this New Fantasyland restaurant is that many Magic Kingdom insiders believe it's the alcohol that's making them do this. That -- because "Be Our Guest" is the only restaurant at the Magic Kingdom where beer and wine is now being served -- a lot of people aren't automatically bolting their dinners so that they can then go out & get back in line for Space Mountain & The Haunted Mansion. If anything, they're lingering so that they can then order a second $6.25 mug of Kronenbourg or another $16 glass of Lasseter Family St. Emilion Red Blend.

Don't worry. The folks at Walt Disney World will eventually get this all sorted out. If anything, they're hoping that -- when Fast Pass Plus starts to come online next year -- that many WDW visitors will just opt to use that program's order-a-quick-service-meal-in-advance-as-you're-standing-in-line-at-some-attraction app when it comes to doing lunch at "Be Our Guest." Which (it is hoped) will significantly cut back on the number of Guests standing in the brutal Florida noonday sun on that bridge as they wait to enter this elegant new eatery.

In fact, just this week, Disney is field-testing Fast Pass Plus at "Be Our Guest." With WDW visitors who have been recruited to take part in this test being issued gold rose-shaped pagers once they place their lunchtime orders. Which supposedly guarantees these Fast Pass Plus test participants super-fast service.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

But when it comes to New Fantasyland, folks ... Well, for all this talk of "New Fantasyland is now officially open at The Magic Kingdom," the fact of that matter is that this part of that theme park is still very much a work-in-progress. And what with all of the work that still needs to be done on Princess Fairytale Hall and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride, it may actually take 'til January of 2014 'til New Fantasyland is operating the way that WDW management had initially hoped it would. Delivering a top quality Guest experience to all those who venture back into this newly reimagined portion of that theme park.

Which is why -- if you arrive at "Be Our Guest" for dinner over the next six months or so and find that they're not immediately able to seat you -- my advice / request is that you cut the Cast Members who are working at this New Fantasyland restaurant a little slack. After all, it's not their fault that -- because of this eatery's exquisite theming and/or the availability of alcohol -- that Guests who are already inside are hanging on in the place 15-to-45 minutes longer than expected. Which really is putting "Be Our Guest" 's servers to the test.

Your thoughts?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

EDITOR'S NOTE: My apologies for it being so long between stories here on JHM, folks. But while I was down at Walt Disney World last week taking part in the New Fantasyland media event, I got food poisoning. (And -- no -- it wasn't because of something I ate at "Be Our Guest," Gaston's Tavern or any of the party food that was served over the course of this three day-long event. If anything, I think I just got a bad orange while I was visiting the Hospitality Center. Which meant -- not to get too graphic here -- that I then spent most of last week's media event not eating while I became overly-familiar with dozens of Disney World restrooms). Then -- to add insult to injury -- once I got back home to New Hampshire, my laptop immediately blue-screened.

Nancy and I are headed out later today to a data recovery service see if any of the photos & interviews that I got at last week's event can now be saved. As for my Samsung ... Since it's still under warranty (I only bought the thing back in February), I'm sending it off shortly so that its hard drive (which seems to have a bad sector) can then be replaced.

But in the meantime, I'm borrowing Nancy's laptop to use to file new stories on JHM & the Huffington Post. More to the point, I'll be steering clear of oranges for the foreseeable future. So please hang in there. Things should get back to normal shortly.

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  • Enjoyed the article, and glad you're back, Jim - hope you're feeling a lot better!  Food poisoning is awful.

    ? for you - are you still doing Magical Definition podcasts, or are those done now?  Great park conversations with Len Testa (so far!), but I miss the angles you used to cover with Nathan.  Let us know, ok?

  • We had a dinner seating at Be Our Guest for the Cast Preview and I was surprised how frazzled the serving team seemed and how long everything took. It's obvious the restaurant bit off more than it could chew (literally and figuratively) with the reservation process but I'm sure as time goes on and they have more data to analyze there will be improvements made. People have been waiting so long to experience this restaurant the expectation is really high and I think people are walking out of there a bit disappointed. I'm sure these issues will work themselves out and it is nice to have an additional table service location in the Magic Kingdom. The theming is amazing and you really can't help but just sit and stare!

  • How about implementing somekind of dining "timer". I know that sounds pretty silly, but in theory it could be accomplished in a tasteful and magical way. Something that politely forces you to leave. Having the "enchanted tables" go dark after an hour has passed. Or a miniature encased rose on each table that loses petals every 15 minutes until all have fall off; thus instructing dinning guests to leave. Would that be even ethically feasible? Would that impact customer satisfaction?

  • We recently had the chance to dine at 'Be our Guest' on our last trip to WDW just after Thanksgiving. What we found was a decent table service restaurant but really nothing that special. The building looks very impressive....and has some neat effects, but at the end of the day we really found the experience rather boring. You would think in a themed restaurant there would be more entertainment to keep the attention of kids. The name itself is taken from the popular song and production number in the movie in which the dishes and cutlery sing and dance. Now I know that is not possible but it would have been neat to see every 20 min. or so some type of production. I guess at the end of the day a restaurant as expensive as this will make A LOT more money than a ride, but it just seems that with a building as large as they made (i.e. the huge mountain and castle) it seems kind of lame that the only thing in that whole structure is a restaurant...hence cast members having to explain to people that it is not a ride. While things will change when the Seven Dwarves Mine train opens...for now if you really look at  what you got with the new Fantasy land -- some really nice looking buildings and walkways, an overly expensive restaurant, and copy of a C-ticket dark ride that had  already built in Disneyland (and just spruced up the queue).  Universal's Wizarding World and DCA's Cars land are both far superior expansions. Lets hope the eventual Avatar Land provides more entertainment than this.

  • I recently had the chance to do both lunch and dinner at Be Our Guest (not the same day).  Our experience was very nice, but a bit rushed during dinner, perhaps because of the issue Jim has mentioned.  We had barely started with our soups, when our entrees arrived.  The staff had no issue taking the entrees back, and the server apologized, but that was not the kind of experience we expected during the more upscale dining experience touted for Be Our Guest.  At lunch, the big problem seemed to be with the self service ordering.  It seemed like most groups were really having issues understanding how to place their own orders.  I know Disney expects to save labor with self serve ordering, but they had to have a staff member at every kiosk explaining how to place and pay for your order, so no labor saved there.  In fact, a trained Disney cashier could probably handle twice as many orders and the self service kiosks can.  On the plus side, we found the food at both dinner and lunch to be very tasty, and free refills on drinks during lunch was a very welcomed change from other quick dining options.

  • What happened with the podcast?? Come back, it's been too long since your last one! Maybe in the new year?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm afraid that the Magical Definition podcast will be remaining on an indefinite hold for a while yet. Long story short: Nathan Rose has been dealing with some urgent family-related issues for the past few months. And until that situation resolves itself .. Well, I'm afraid that it's not going to be all that easy for the two of us to find times that are convenient for recording.

    Mind you, Nathan and I have talked on the phone about this issue as recently as last week. And we have hopes to get at one new Magical Definition show cranked out before the first of the year. And then -- with luck -- the two of us will be able to get our podcast back on a semi-regular schedule (i.e. if not a new episode once every week, then once every two weeks or once a month) starting in 2013.

    In the meantime, if you really feel the need to listening to me yammer ... Well, there's always that "Disney Dish with Jim Hill" podcast that I record with Len Testa for TouringPlans.com. That Unofficial-Guide-to-Walt-Disney-World associated show is now posted on a weekly basis over on iTunes. So hopefully that can hold you over 'til Nathan & I get Magical Definition back on track.

  • The restaurant is nicely detailed and the staff is friendly but the food is bland at best.  The press buzz said this would be a fine French meal - the reality is that there is very little that is actually French about the cuisine.  The entrees served here would hardly be on the bistros of even the most so-so French restaurants in most major cities.

    My mussels appetizer contained numerous mussels but  they were annoyingly small and in a bland, tasteless whit wine sauce (at least that's what it said it was, I beg to differ).  My seafood puff pastry was "tasty" but how often do you think of French entrees as just being tasty.  They should be "outstanding" - this was not.  I dismissed the steak and "frits" as an entree I should select and it turns out that it looked to be the most appetizing of all the entrees my party ordered.  So, I guess play it safe and order the steak.

    As far as desserts the cupcakes are nice but the EPCOT Center (yes I'm still spelling it out in full detail - I refuse to call it "lower case insulting" Epcot) bakery puts the desserts here to shame.  In fact, I'd rather have just had soft serve ice cream; the desserts at Be Our Guest were that unmemorable.

    So, this restaurant is going to be busy for a year or so and then, mark my words, it will turn into another character dinner buffet because they're not meeting their financial goals.  

    And I agree, while the new Fantasyland is quite detailed it still doesn't seem as charming as the DLP or even DL versions of Fantasyland.  All that real estate for a restaurant is a crime.  At the end of the day we ended up with an Omnimover Little Mermaid Ride that is a "C" ticket at best.  The Dwarf coaster will be fun but the lines will be ungodly .  The land just doesn't cut it for me as a repeat guest.  Much ado about nothing really.  If they would have added a villains ride concept then that just might have got me to renew my WDW/DL annual pass.  In 2013 it's time to set my sites on HKDL and TDR.

  • Give diners a free fastpass to an attraction to get them out of the restaurant. Dumbo at 5:30-5:45 for a 4pm dinner and the server will promise to get the family out in time??

  • I guess there was a reason why the Enchanted Tiki Room is not a restaurant.

  • I really doubt alcohol is the reason why people will stay in a restaurant for very long.  Some people just like to take their time to soak in the experience as well as socialize.  I wouldn't spend longer than 1 hr in a restaurant.  But large groups of people who dine together will usually dine for up to 3hrs.

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