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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:50 am    Post subject: Magic Kingdom eateries take control of seating... Reply with quote

Magic Kingdom eateries take control of seating to boost efficiency and help diners relax

Walt Disney World is experimenting with new crowd-control methods in some of its busiest in-park restaurants, hoping to make the facilities more pleasant for guests and more profitable for the resort.

Inside four quick-service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom, Disney has begun restricting access — but guaranteeing seating — during particularly busy lunch rushes. Managers say the approach helps smooth out traffic in part by eliminating the need for groups to split up and send someone to order food while another person holds an open table — something that can clog up as much as one-third of a restaurant's capacity at any given time.

"This has been very helpful for us from an efficiency standpoint, because everything's so well-organized," said Liz Clark, general manager of food and beverage in the Magic Kingdom.

The tinkering illustrates one of the small ways theme parks have sought to squeeze more money out of existing operations — beyond top-level cost cuts — in the midst of a recession that has sapped attendance and guest spending.

Disney does not break out how much restaurant sales contribute to the revenue of individual theme parks. But experts say it is substantial.

"The food-and-beverage operations are very significant in the overall bottom line," said Mary Jo Ross, a former multi-unit restaurant manager at Universal Orlando and an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

Disney says the restaurant changes are part of an internal initiative called "The Basics," in which employees have been urged to re-emphasize customer service.

Busy, in-park restaurants are an obvious target for improvements; around noon on a busy day, they can rival the longest ride queues in terms of crowds, noise and stress levels.

"It wasn't really a good way to decompress or relax. So we've been really focusing on how we can enhance the whole dining experience," Clark said.

Under the controlled-access and -seating program, guests in certain Magic Kingdom counter-service restaurants are steered through a single entrance so workers can keep tabs on how many people are inside.

A greeter hands menus and steers the entire group to cash registers to place their orders. After they get their food, they are guided by another employee to an empty table.

Implementing the change is trickier than it may sound. For example, the restaurants have multiple entrances, so Disney restaurant managers have had to work with the resort's "Imagineers" to work out new ways of guiding traffic through a single point.

Clark said the program has already evolved based on feedback from guests. The menus that greeters hand out were initially only available in English and were done entirely in text; they have since been changed to include multiple languages, pictures of the menu selections, and information about using a pre-purchased dining plan that Disney sells to resort guests.

Disney began testing the concept in the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café. But it has since been rolled out to three other busy counter-service restaurants: Columbia Harbour House, Pinocchio Village Haus and Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café. Those restaurants range in size from about 400 seats to more than 1,000 at Pecos Bill and Cosmic Ray's.

The controlled access is used only when that day's park attendance warrants.

Clark said the results have been overwhelmingly positive, both in terms of praise from guests who report a more-relaxed dining experience and in terms of reducing congestion inside the restaurants, where, like on a busy highway, small backups can cascade over the course of a day into lengthier delays.

Disney has also made other, subtler changes. At Pecos Bill, for instance, the resort has added self-service ordering kiosks, though guests can still opt to order from a human cashier.

Workers also recently replaced highly themed, high-backed chairs at Pecos Bill with smaller, less clunky stools. The switch, which Disney said was made on the suggestion of a restaurant worker, has allowed the restaurant to add an extra seat at many tables and improved the aisles between tables, helping alleviate further bottlenecks.

Jason Garcia can be reached at or 407-420-5414.
Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel,0,1099425.story
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 5:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like a good idea. We usually frequent Pecos Bill's at least once per trip, and seating can be a problem. And I am looking forward to the self service kiosks.

We do try to avoid dining during peak hours though.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 6:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are a few horror stories about this on other sites... the problem is that your whole party has to stay together the entire time, even standing in line to place your order and get your food. You can not split up any more, no more saving tables while one or two people standing in line. This is going to be very bad for large groups and people with small children (strollers, etc...). The waiting lines to get food are going to be even worse now...
Up or Down North, South, East, or West An Adventurer's Life is Best!
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Ticket Agent
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2009 6:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like it will only be during peak times for park attendance, and considering how narrow those lines are for people to navigate through with a stroller, they may allow the families to wait just outside that line’s exit. At least they’re still together. Plus controlling how maybe people are in the restaurant at any given time will help. There are max occupancies in each restaurant, so maybe the CMs will be able to direct traffic to a less crowded eatery if people don’t want to wait for a seat. Hopefully it will also cut down on 2 people sitting at a table that can accommodate 4-6 just because it’s the closest table available. If they can make the new seating system work fairly smoothly when it’s crowded, I’m all for it!

I didn’t see anything like this being implemented anywhere last week since crowds at MK were fairly light. We ate at Pecos Bill twice and CHH once. On a side note, Matt and I can highly recommend the fried chicken dinner they’ve started offering at Pecos, as well as the fried chicken sandwich at the kiosk outside Pecos’ between Adventureland and Frontierland.

I’ll keep an eye open to see how things are run next time I’m over there and it’s looking busy. I know we’ve all been stuck wandering with a tray for 10 minutes looking for a seat because larger groups are taking up prime real estate while a member of the party is on line ordering for 5 people or trying to figure out how to use their dining plan credits. Or, at Contempo Café, one person waiting in line to use a snack credit and then the rest of his party cutting in front of me to join him in using their respective snack credits. I just want to pay cash for a bottle of water! They need to have separate dining plan lines or something to help with that congestion, but that’s another story! 

As for the self-service kiosks, we’ve tried them out at the Contempo Café and Captain Cook’s at the Poly. They’re good if you want to make special requests for your meal, and they’re helpful in clearing up some of the ordering congestion for people that just want to buy stuff from the coolers. I wonder if their novelty will wear off though.
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