by Len Testa
Note: This article first appeared in the September 2, 2008 AllEars newsletter: http://allears.net/ae/issue467.htm.
Now that Disney’s announced a new Quick Service Dining Plan for 2009, you might be wondering whether it’s a good value for your family, and how it compares in value to the other dining plans. Similarly, since the launch of the original Disney Dining Plan, one of the questions we get most frequently is whether a Disney Signature restaurant, such as the California Grill, makes financial sense under the dining plan when it costs two table service credits to dine there.
To determine that, however, you need to know how much of the Plan’s $39.99 nightly cost is set aside by Disney to cover a table service meal, how much is set aside for a quick service meal, and how much for a snack. And if you’re on the new Quick Service Dining Plan or the Deluxe Dining Plan, the cost of appetizers, refillable mugs and arcade time must also be determined. That’s a lot of math, especially if your last experience with algebra occurred when Jimmy Carter was president.
Many spreadsheet programs such as Microsoft Excel, however, now come with add-in software that will find solutions for many problems, as long as you know how to set up the equations. Fortunately, that part is relatively easy. If we let a cell named “Q” in Excel represent the cost of a quick service meal, “T” represent a table service meal and “S” a snack, the formula for the standard Dining plan is:
(Standard Dining Plan) 1Q + 1T + 1S = $39.99
Let “A” represent appetizers, “G” be 30 minutes of game time at the arcades and “M” be a refillable mug, and we have enough to represent the other two plans:
(Quick Service Plan) 2Q + 2S + 1G + 1M = $29.99
(Deluxe Plan) 1Q + 2T + 2S + 2A + 1M = $71.99
The Deluxe Plan allows you to eat three meals at any table service or quick service restaurant in Walt Disney World. Why do we assume two table-service and one quick service meals in the Deluxe Plan? We figured that due to the amount of food involved, few folks would want to eat that much in a single day. And it turned out that that assumption might just be exactly what Disney’s thinking, too.
Letting Excel do the math, we came up with this set of values for each part of the dining plan:
$25.44 – The value of a table service meal under any plan
$10.08 – The value of a quick service meal under any plan
$ 4.48 – A refillable mug
$ 2.98 – Appetizers
$ 2.53 – The value of a snack
$ 0.30 – 30 minutes of arcade time
(Technical note: the number of alternate solutions to these equations is large, if not infinite. We won’t go into detail here on that aspect of the problem, but drop us a line if you’d like to discuss it further.)
A couple of interesting observations come out of these data. One is that the solutions don’t work if you eat three table service meals per day as part of the Deluxe Dining Plan. In fact, we think these numbers show that Disney is also assuming you’ll eat two table service and one quick service meal per day. Eating three table service meals, however, is how you’d get the most value from that plan.
A second interesting observation is that the refillable mug also includes the cost of Disney buying the mug itself. Clearly Disney buys these in bulk. Even so, some quick research on the web indicates that slightly less than half the value of the refillable mug comes from the cost of the mug itself, not the drinks in it. And you get to keep the mug.
The value of the snacks and appetizers seem to indicate that Disney thinks most people will be using these most of the time. But the value of the snacks and appetizers also seems to include some of the labor costs associated with getting those items to you. In the case of appetizers, it seems to include the cost of the food and the labor to make the appetizer. For snacks, the value seems to include the cost of having a Disney cast member haul out a whole bunch of soda bottles and stand in the sun to give them to you.
Fourth, the low value placed on the 30 minutes of arcade time seems to indicate that either it’s very inexpensive to run an arcade, or Disney doesn’t think you’ll be using that part of the plan. Keep that in mind when you’re considering the value of the Quick Service Dining Plan.
If you’re on the Deluxe Dining Plan, using two table service credits is a break-even proposition: the out-of-pocket cost of a typical meal is within a few cents of what the analysis above says it’s worth, including appetizers and desserts.
Finally, if you’re on the standard Dining plan, it’s rarely a good value to use two table service credits for an entree and dessert at one of Disney’s signature restaurants, at least here in summer 2008 looking at 2009. The median cost of an entree at California Grill right now is around $34.50, desserts are $10, and let’s say a non-alcoholic drink is $3, for a total cost of $47.50. The value of two table service meals, however, is almost $51, so you’d be better off without the dining plan. That being said, the median cost of an entree at California Grill in 2007 was around $29.50, an increase of almost 17%! If Disney raises prices again before your trip, the economics might change to be in your favor. A great resource for determining whether you’re getting value out of the plans is AllEars.Net’s menu repository: http://www.allears.net/menu/menus.htm.