Don’t think that because you’re budget-conscious, you can’t enjoy the excellent table service dining at Disney World. While these meals can be quite expensive, there are ways to lower the costs. Just as with the counter service restaurants, portions at the table service restaurants are large enough to make sharing feasible. Three people can split two entrees, or two people might share an entrée and appetizer, or even three appetizers. Not only do you lower your cost, you get to try a wider variety of what the restaurant has to offer. If you’re a light eater, you might also consider having an appetizer for your main course.
When planning your table service meals, you should note that prices at the same restaurant for the same meal are considerably lower at lunch. I experienced this first-hand when my wife and I took an adults-only trip in 2009. We had dinner at Restaurant Marrakesh. When the bill came, I was shocked that it cost as much for the two of us as what we normally spend for our family of four. Then I realized that my wife and I were having dinner, while we normally have a table service lunch when the whole family goes down.
For example, the New York Strip Steak at Le Cellier (AKA the “Scopa Special”) is $31.99 at lunch and $42.00 for dinner. Both are 12 ounces of meat with Gruyere Yukon Gold Potato Gratin. The dinner entrée includes wilted spinach. Is wilted spinach worth $10? Even the appetizers are priced differently between lunch and dinner. Le Cellier’s famed Cheddar Cheese Soup is $6.99 for a bowl at lunch (or you can get a cup for $5.49). At dinner, the soup is $9.00.
Finally, if you’re an annual passholder or Florida resident, consider the Tables in Wonderland card. This card costs $75 for passholders and $100 for Florida residents. It entitles you and up to nine guests to a 20% discount on all food and drinks (including alcoholic beverages) at select restaurants at Walt Disney World. The participating restaurants include most table service restaurants in the theme parks and resorts, as well as the food courts at the Value resorts. However, an 18% tip is included with your bill, regardless of party size. Crunching the numbers, if you’re an annual passholder and spend more than $375 a year on food from the selected restaurants, or a Florida resident who spends more than $500 a year on food, you’ll come out ahead.
I haven’t mentioned the Disney Dining Plan. As I’ve stated before, I don’t really see it as a way to save money; its value is in the convenience of having most of the costs of your meal paid for ahead of time. The one instance where it can save you money is when Disney offers free dining, and has no competing discounts that are a better offer. But even then, you should do the math and compare the value of the “free” dining (and rack rate resort room) with the discounted room rate and paying for your food out of pocket.
Eating at Disney World doesn’t mean you have to always have your calculator out, worrying about how much you’re spending. By keeping these few rules in mind, you can enjoy all the dining experiences Disney offers and still have money for groceries when you get back home.
Contributed by: Mark Jeffries (NDD#102) Mark is the DDL Finance Blogger.