Dining Dependence — The Effect of Themed Dining in the Disney Parks

Source: The Disney Company

When attempting to determine the core pillars of Disney principles regarding the ideal vacation that guests should be attempting to book, it’s important to both analyze successful trends and important mainstays that will push guests into a more detailed, expensive experience. Noting this interest in money truly defines the sentiment of the Disney company, which is most obviously a return on investment, specifically the monetary investment each guest by the company requires during the average stay at any of the resorts around the world.

Source: Dad’s Guide to WDW

If you ask anybody about the most important aspect of a Disney vacation, the experience that they cannot go without during their trip, the one that signifies the vacation as a positive and successful one, is very likely that an attraction that they hold dear, whether it be due to nostalgia or other external factors. Most guests find comfort in experiences such as Space Mountain, Rock n’ Roller Coaster, and assorted “E-ticket Attractions” that support the Disney Park experience as a whole. In fact, the attractions soon become familiar landmarks that truly make the guests feel as if they’ve returned to the magical world of Disney, providing from an escape from reality that so many desperately need.

The simple sight of towering attractions such as Spaceship Earth or Expedition Everest remain in the sightlines of park goers, not only due to their demeanor but the significance they hold. Essentially icons at this point, attractions define the Disney experience let alone the quintessential vacation.

Yet, the return on investment on a well detailed, strong directed, and immersive attraction is next to nothing. The only barrier between the guest and the newest experience is the price of admission required to enter the park, providing zero reason for the company to develop any further. Truly, the only way to change this is to constantly increase ticket prices (which is a commonly used practice, at least recently), or to develop an alternative mode of funding.

Source: hnbaird’s channel (YouTube)

For example, one can turn towards the Carousel of Progress for the effects of this sentiment. While this attraction may be a cornerstone of Disney history, cementing one of the first experiences that would eventually be introduced to the Disney Parks to the public, recent years haven’t been too kind. The exterior has been completely redone, which was quite the nice touch, but the constant necessity of attention and state of disrepair that the attraction (specifically the state of the audio-animatronics) currently faces stem out of pure laziness. It’s essentially an empty investment, as the company pours money into upkeep while seeing no monetary benefit. People will still come to the parks, so why put the effort into maintenance on attractions that only purists seem to care about?

In recent years it seems that the Disney company has found a new way to further prey upon the pockets of their guests, harping on that necessity for an immersive get away that many seek. Rather than improve the attractions they currently have, it’s becoming increasing popular to shift focus towards a future in improved dining.

This isn’t a surprise to anyone in the Disney community, as a simple glance at the homepage of most Disney news sources provides headlines regarding a new snack or rumored dining experience at the parks, each more expensive than the last. It’s getting to the point where I myself plan my own trips to the parks exclusively based on food options, as everyday news only seems to increase my interest for the next “immersive” Disney food experience.

Source: WDWMagic

Skippers Canteen, Be Our Guest Restaurant, and a possible addition of a Haunted Mansion themed dining option amongst other inclusions outline one of the most recent business tactics performed in an effort to further increase park revenue. Each of these locations have distinctive experiences that aim to propel the reader into a magical world, straight from some of their favorite Disney properties. Dining options have defined this era of Disney, but not exclusively in the “sit-down” side of the business.

Source: Disney Food Blog

Disney has found new growth regarding snack options, where the company can nickel-and-dime every individual that steps into the gate. In the newest addition to Animal Kingdom (that being Pandora), guests have the option to upgrade their $3 drinks to one in a flute cup, for about $10 more. It’s the same drink, yet consumers are willing to pay over triple the price for one that comes in a memorable cup that truly cements their day in a Disney Park into their memories. At every special event, Disney tends to offer these exclusive containers for a limited time to both increase rarity and in turn increase profits. Boba Fett cup holders, Darth Vader popcorn jugs, Drink Steins created to celebrate the anniversaries of various attractions or parks. Very often we’re subjected to the constant release of these products and while the company may be openly cheating the consumer out of their money, it’s often met with praise. All of this exclusively on the basis that guestscan now treat themselves to gluttonous buttery goodness right from R2-D2’s dome shaped head.

Source: Disney Food Blog

Cupcakes are becoming a mainstay in the Disney culinary experience. Continuously, Disney releases themed cupcakes that match up with the “character of the month.” Now, I harbor absolutely no ill will to the bakers and culinary artists of the Disney Parks, frankly I’m constantly astounded by the products they manage to develop, but cupcakes are most certainly the cheapest of all baking delicacies. It’s extremely simple to make large batches, and icing the cakes themselves requires effort, but not to the extent that more difficult projects demand. Disney has opted to monetize the cheapest form of bakery sweets, upcharging to around $5 a cake where most places charge that much for a six-pack.

From this, we can truly understand the marketing and economic tactics that the Disney Parks brand has employed. Using property based theming on their dining/snack options will increase sales as familiar visuals will attract more guests. Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs, adopting a similar mentality as the Trader Sam’s bars at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, represents the “themed dining option” style that Disney has lately adopted.

Source: Tours Departing Daily

Disney makes nearly no return on investment when they develop or refurbish an attraction. Guests will still be purchasing tickets summer on summer, as the parks themselves have become a mainstay in the family vacation. One example of such phenomena was found when Frozen Ever After opened in Epcot, and Disney Parks saw a 5% decrease in park traffic that year, filling to capacity only once (that being on New Year’s Eve). In fact, the only reason Disney Parks saw increased revenue that year was the steep upcharge in ticket pricing. Thus, Disney might as well spend its money elsewhere, in an area of business that will guarantee a constant money flow day in and day out. Guests are dependent in the theme park food option, and if Disney continues to raise the prices, guests will comply accordingly.

Source: Touring Plans Blog

Yet, I still harbour personal fears surrounding this dependence on themed dining as a central pillar for the Disney company’s mentality. There’s seemingly a dependence on dining options whereas attractions have suffered. Take for example the dilapidated state of Stitch’s Great Escape, an attraction that I personally enjoy but receives criticism constantly. I myself though am completely aware of the lack of care they have. Quite literally above the front door of the attraction, a sticker is falling off of the wall. It’s been like that for at least a year now, and it doesn’t seem like Disney has the interest in maintaining it. In fact, their response to the deterioration of the attraction is to close it, only opening it seasonally. Yet the company can pump out the next Star Wars cupcake or a drink container based on the latest fad like it’s nothing.

Source: Daily Mail (Picture from Disneyland Paris)

Maintenance of attractions has been lacking in recent years, which is come to be expected but when the company focuses on other ventures, leaving the most important aspects of the park behind it tarnishes the perfectionist reputation Disney once previously attained. The dining experience has become a focus recently, which divides attention from other aspects of the industry.

The company is definitely acting in its best interest, further increasing profit while devoting attention to what guarantees the best return on investment, but diverting attention away from upkeep of the attractions only because it sees no return on investment only shows laziness in management.

Source: Attractions Magazine

The light at the end of the tunnel is found in Pandora, where dining options only include a quick service option that delivers “cheap” food that does not pull away from the themed area itself. However, this does not serve as a litmus test for the company itself, as this is more of an exclusion to the norm rather than an example of turning over a new leaf.

The constant development at dining experiences at Disney Parks is obviously a fantastic addition to the experiences found there. Some of the parks are in desperate need of dining options, and this new necessity can provide as a catalyst for such developments. But sacrificing the integrity of the attractions found within said parks is a loss that any overpriced food option cannot make up for. In the current day, where crowd numbers are ever increasing and park traffic soars summer after summer, any decrease in quality found within any attractions will be blatantly obvious. Guests will notice the cracks in the seams, and refuse to return to the parks just on the basis that they lack basic upkeep. One can only hope that Disney will no longer sacrifice integrity for the almighty dollar any longer.

Ryan Dorman is a Columnist for the Boardwalk Times.