Our family just returned from a bit of a “culinary adventure” at Disney World. Does that statement surprise you? For most visitors, Disney World has not (traditionally) been a “foodie” experience. Turkey legs, burgers and chicken fingers were standard fare.
But things have changed rather dramatically in the past couple of decades. As Disney expanded their parks and resorts and invented new incentives to keep visitors on the Disney property for their entire stay, a family could easily spend 5-7 days eating only Disney food. And a 5-7 day diet of the same park food can get old. Real fast.
So Disney has made a huge effort to step up their foodservice game. In addition to the high-end themed restaurants you find at parks like Epcot and Hollywood Studios, even simple counter service restaurants now offer a bit of culinary excitement.
I’ll share two examples we experienced: first, the “food court” at the Art of Animation hotel. You can order things like a Caprese sandwich with fresh mozzarella and balsamic drizzle, a vegetable burger with a fried green tomato and pepper jack cheese, tandoori chicken with naan bread or pork tourtière pie — each for less than $10.
The second example was the most impressive. In the Magic Kingdom park, one of the most popular lunch locations is the new Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Beast’s Castle. Elaborately themed, with three different dining rooms based on the movie Beauty and the Beast, the restaurant offers quick service with a French — and high-tech — twist.
Menu items like braised pork, croque monsieur, tuna Niçoise salad and vegetable quiche are far from your typical theme park fare but are in perfect keeping with the French chateau/castle theming of the restaurant. But it gets even more interesting when it’s time to order and get your food.
First, a little background: many park guests now enter the parks and access rides using Disney’s new MagicBand technology – essentially an RFID chip in a wrist band, with some additional near-field communications built in. The Be Our Guest Restaurant takes full advantage of that technology — not only do you place your order on a touch screen kiosk, with large images of the food, but you hold your MagicBand up to the kiosk to “confirm” your order.
You then head to whichever themed area of the the “castle” you choose, select a table, sit down and wait for your food to be delivered to you on a rolling cart, just like in the movie. How does the elegantly clad wait staff find you? By an iPod that tracks your MagicBand, so they know exactly where you’ve chosen to sit.
All in all, we thought that dining at Be Our Guest Restaurant — from the theme, to the setting, to the food, to the delivery of the food — was a magical culinary experience. (Which, in Disney terms, is exactly what they’re trying to deliver.) And the non-standard options at the Art of Animation food court impressed us with their variety and quality. It’s evident that Disney is really embracing the fact that a good foodservice experience, no matter where it’s found, is a crucial part of customer enjoyment and can leave your customers talking long after they’ve left your establishment.