Magic Kingdom eateries take control of seating to boost efficiency and help diners relax
‘Sheriff’ Sonny Mattice assists guests for seating during the lunch hour at the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frontierland, at the Magic Kingdom. The restaurant is using a new pilot program, including seating assistance, to reduce wait times by creating more efficiency in food ordering and seating at that popular eatery.
[b]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.[/b]