Signature Dining: Is It Worth It On The Disney Dining Plan?

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Signature Dining v. Regular Dining on the Disney Dining Plan. It’s a debate in the Disney community that has raged as fiercely as the great refillable mug debate (okay, maybe this one isn’t quite so contentious). When my recent post on the real value of “Free” Dining morphed into a discussion on the merits of the Disney Dining Plan, in general, in the comments, I knew I would have to return to the topic.  When I recently heard about the new Signature Dinner menu at Le Cellier, I knew comparing the value of Signature Restaurants to Regular restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan would have to be the topic.

For those unfamiliar with how the Dining Plan works, regular Table Service restaurants require one credit, whereas Signature restaurants require two credits.  For those making their dining choices based solely on value-for-money, the determination of value is simple-enough: a meal at a Signature restaurant must cost twice as much as a meal at a regular Table Service restaurant. Obviously there are personal considerations that you may want to take into account as well, such as how many Table Service meals you actually want to eat (one per day might be too many for some parties, so using two credits for one meal might provide a nice respite), if you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket for a meal if you use two credits on one meal (and whether that’s a concern), whether your plans will leave you with an extra credit if you don’t eat at a Signature restaurant, and which restaurants you prefer, just to name a few variables. Obviously, these subjective considerations vary widely per-party and per-individual, and are beyond the scope of this article. What we can provide is an objective analysis on price points at the restaurants to determination whether Signature Restaurants are an economically efficient use of dining credits.

To get an idea of the ‘value’ of eating at the various restaurants, consider the following dinner examples, organized by location (for ease of math, we will consider entree and dessert, not consider tax, tip, or drink; including these items does not alter the results in any meaningful way. Also noteworthy is that menu prices were taken from disneyworld.com when available with allears.net providing supplemental menus; as such, some prices may not be current.):

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Jiko (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $51 per person.
Median-priced meal – $46 per person.
Cheapest meal – $35 per person.

Sanaa (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $35.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $24.48 per person.
Cheapest meal – $19.48 per person.

 

BoardWalk

Flying Fish (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $53 per person.
Median-priced meal – $44 per person.
Cheapest meal – $36 per person.

Kouzzina by Cat Cora (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $40.48 per person.
Median-priced meal – $30.23 per person.
Cheapest meal – $25.98 per person.

Contemporary Resort

California Grill (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $57 per person.
Median-priced meal – $48 per person.
Cheapest meal – $40 per person.

The Wave (Regular):
Most expensive meal -  $37.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $29.98 per person.
Cheapest meal – $25.98 per person.

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Criticos (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $55 per person.
Median-priced meal – $44 per person.
Cheapest meal – $22 per person.

Grand Floridian Cafe (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $37.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $25.88 per person.
Cheapest meal – $20.28 per person.

Yacht Club

Yachtsman Steakhouse (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $55 per person.
Median-priced meal – $42 per person.
Cheapest meal – $31 per person.

Captain’s Grille (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $35.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $28.48 per person.
Cheapest meal – $20.48 per person.

Wilderness Lodge

Artist Point (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $55 per person.
Median-priced meal – $41.50 per person.
Cheapest meal – $35 per person.

Whispering Canyon Cafe (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $36.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $26.98 per person.
Cheapest meal – $25.98 per person.

It’s pretty clear from these numbers that dinners at the Signature Restaurants are more expensive than dinners at the regular dining at the same resorts, but there is not one example where the cost is twice as much as the regular dining option.  In fact, on average, the median price of a meal at a Signature Restaurant is only 60.8% higher than a meal at a regular restaurant at the same resort.  While this doesn’t compare all Signature Restaurants to all regular restaurants, I believe the results would be roughly the same.  My rationale for comparing the restaurants in the manner I have done–on a resort by resort basis–is that I believe that based on most guests’ touring habits, restaurants at the same resort present viable alternatives to one another for most guests, whereas suggesting someone who was planning on eating at Citricos instead go eat at Sanaa may not be reasonable for all guests. (Although this type of random suggestion is exactly the type Disneyworld.com seems to make to me when I attempt to book dining online and my first choice isn’t available.)

From these results, it appears fairly clear that those of us considering only economic efficiency when choosing a restaurant on the dining plan are not well-suited by choosing Signature Dining.  Even Jiko, which is the restaurant that performs the best against its “foe,” Sanaa, the only a la carte restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge (well, it’s actually at Kidani Village, but close enough), isn’t double the cost of Sanaa. Plus, when compared to the restaurant in the same building, Boma, it’s comparative value falls in line with the other Signature Restaurants, which drop to having an across-the-board median meal price that is, on average, 55.38% more expensive than their regular dining counterparts.  These numbers make it abundantly clear that value-seekers on the Dining Plan should avoid Signature Dining (if you must do Signature Dining, it’s actually more efficient to pay out-of-pocket than to use the Dining Plan, even taking drink and tax into account).

Additionally, there are concerns, although certainly unsubstantiated, that prices have increased as a result of the Dining Plan to create the illusion of greater savings to those on the Dining Plan. If this theory is correct, it follows that prices at Signature Restaurants have been increased by greater amounts than those of other restaurants, as Disney wants to justify the “two credit status” to those guests considering Signature Dining options.  However, as stated previously, this is an unsubstantiated concern. The true cause for the recent dining price increases could be attributed to supply and demand, across the board increases in the pricing of Disney offerings, or the increases could have some other explanation entirely.

The take away from all this, if you don’t care to examine the numbers or math, is that Signature Dining is a bad option for Dining Plan value-seekers. For those using the Dining Plan for convenience, peace of mind, or any of the myriad of other reasons to use the Dining Plan, this value-comparison may be irrelevant. However, for those who justify using the plan based on saving money: Signature Restaurants are probably not for you.

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Posted on March 11, 2011

45 Responses to “Signature Dining: Is It Worth It On The Disney Dining Plan?”

  • I have come to the same conclusion, but it’s good to see that my logic is supported by the pros!

  • I agree! I’m an OCDisney planner, so I’ve done the math. Signature or no signature, the dining plan as a whole is of no value to us unless it’s free. I love Disney dining, but the plan is no good to most “value seekers,” and I cannot understand buying the plan for convenience alone.

    • Nothing is free. While you might get the dining plan added to your reservation for free, you are paying full rack rate for your hotel room. Even during the free dining promotion it can be less expensive to take a discount on the room and pay for the dining plan.

      Also, I find value in the dining plan for my family. With 2 adults and 4 children under 10 I get savings from the children’s dining plan. For $11.99 I can feed a child for the day. Many of the TS restaurant kid meals cost more than the $11.99 cost of the dining plan. The adult dining plan is probably more break even than a savings.

      • Again, you’re talking to an obsessive vacation planner. :) When we used free dining, it was definitely free. That promotion is offered when the resort prices are at their lowest, however we saved way more money on meals than 20% off at Pop would have ever saved us.

        K, so maybe it’s possible that the dining plan is a good “value,” but it rarely saves anyone money IMO. It’s way more food than many guests would have otherwise purchased. Now if the plan included gratuities and an appetizer (or a app/dessert option) that would be a different story. Also, it would be a nice deal if ea person on the same resort res had an option to buy the plan or not. However, I do agree it can be a good deal if you have kids aged 3-9, but not so nice once they’re 10 and paying adult prices.

  • Excellent analysis. This is the same conclusion I came to in my head. Good to see it written down.

  • I think Signature Dining is worth it if you have the dining plan. We found that we had so many extra meals! With Disney making you pay for meals the day you arrive and the day you leave, that can be two extra credits you have right there! So even if you have a TS everyday, two of those could be signature. Just the way it works out for our family.

    • Paying for meals the day arrive and the day you leave? I have never payed for a meal on the dining plan. You meal count is based on the number of nights.

    • Actually, you are *not allowed* to buy the dining plan by days, only by nights. So if you have 7 nights in a Disney hotel, you can only get the dining plan for 7 days, which for my family actually leaves us a little short, since we’re usually there early on day one, and depart late on say eight.

      • Agreed. Our experience on the DDP has always been that we’re short a couple of meals because of this.

        • Count yourselves lucky! Traveling from the West Coast usually has us leaving the house at 6am local time and arriving in Orlando at the earliest 8pm. By the time we get to the hotel, there’s not much left to do than crawl into bed. Same thing for leaving on the last day. We caught our DME at 5:45am (ouch!). Yes, I know Disneyland is closer, but I think we’d all agree WDW is worth the trip!

          Thanks for the clarification on the days vs nights. I recently went on a 7 night WDW trip, but my group decided to spend one day at Universal to see the Harry Potter park. This why I knew we had 5 Disney days and 7 Disney meals to use! So we were constantly trying to use up everything. This is why I thought Signature dining would come in handy (we only had QS DDP and it was ‘free’ otherwise I would have never gotten it). But it did actually come in handy as long as you know how to use up all those snacks at the end (Karamell Kuche, I’m looking at you!)

          But if you’re looking to use up TS, then I would say Signature dining is the way to go.

  • I would never buy the dining plan but will be using it for ‘free’ for the second time in May. We will eat at a few signature restaurants because a) we like them better (fewer kids, nicer atmosphere, exceptional food) and b) the counter service meals are so huge we can share them on a few occasions to make the dining plan go a bit further for the other meals. 10 weeks to go, we cannot wait 8:o)

    • I can absolutely understand. We also prefer Signature Restaurants (in general), although I think sometimes the atmosphere can be a little too casual. I know these are restaurants at hotels at a theme park, but would it kill people to wear a collared shirt to California Grill?

      • Agree. The dress code they stipulate for the signature restaurants illustrates the bare minimum most people would expect from a decent restaurant. I have booked and am looking forward to trips to the Flying Fish Cafe, Narcoossees and the Yachtsman.

      • by Aaron Newton on March 15, 2011, at 10:04 am EDT

        Would it kill me to wear a collared shirt? No, but it also doesn’t kill the patrons around me to see me in a t-shirt and as long as t-shirts are allowed in the dress code (which they are) then I’ll retain that as an option.

  • I don’t agree with this. This blog is comparing pricing, not quality or atmosphere. We always do delux dining plan and do save money. We use one TS credit for a character breakfast and then 2 TS credits for a signature dinner. We use snack credits for lunch. We look at the signature dining as part of our vacation. We did the numbers and saved a lot of $$$ by doing the DxDDP. It works for us. We do not like the quick serve or counter serve meals. Besides it takes just as much time out to getin line for them and then go find a table and then clean up after yourself as it does to sit comfortably and be waited on. Just our experience with the DxDDP. When totaling the numbers, you need to take into account the snacks, drinks and Desserts/appetizers. Looking at just the price of one part of a meal is not a fair comparrison. To each his own. That’s why Disney has options. But for us, it works.

    • This article discusses the Dining Plan, not the Deluxe Dining Plan. As stated at the outset, other factors (such as quality or atmosphere, as you mentioned) may come into play for different people. However, looking purely at the economics of the DDP (not DxDDP), it is not cost effective to do Signature Dining.

      Also, while appetizers are included in Signature Dining on the DxDDP, they are not included on the DDP. Thus, they are not a pertinent consideration. Moreover, drinks cost approximately the same amount at all table service restaurants, and the tax rate is also the same, so for ease of math (as stated in the article) these variables are not taken into consideration. Snacks also don’t have anything to do with the specific comparison here, which is Signature Dining as compared to regular table service dining on the (standard) DDP.

      Your use of credits on the DxDDP does seem rather cost-effective, though! Even without crunching the numbers, I can see how that would be good value. (Although for us it would be exhausting to eat that many sit-down meals!)

      • Agreed, it was regarding the regular DP. But I would still prefer the signature dining. And I also agree with your comment on collared shirts at Cali Grill. I guess I was more defending the dining plan in general. But Dx is the way to go if you want to do signature dining while saving money. :o) Two sit downs a day really isn’t exhausting at all!! Rather nice..

        • Truth be told, I had always dismissed the DxDDP out of hand because I assumed it would be impossible for us to eat 3 sit-down meals per day (and I figured that’s what would be necessary to make it a good value). I had never considered doing a breakfast and Signature dinner. I gave it some thought, and talked to my wife about it over the weekend, and now I think we might give it a try over a weekend trip.

          If it were for a weeklong trip, I don’t think we could keep up that pace!

          Thanks for the idea.

  • I agree on collared shirts. Not just for California Grill; but for all signature restaurants.

    • Definitely. The first couple times we did Signature Dining, or wore at least slacks and a tie, and on two occasions, a suit. I was always considerably over-dressed, so I started just doing a polo and nice shorts.

  • What about Narcossee’s and using 2TS credits at Cinderella? I think I saved money on Cindy using 2TS but maybe I’m fooling myself!! We did the DxDDP and as I can’t eat 3 meals a day at Disney (unless I want to gain 50lbs!), we used 1 credit for a character b’fast and then 2 at night so we could experience the nicer dining venues at Disney. Thanks for breaking this down, though. I found it quite interesting. We have since become AP holders and use a TiW card instead. I think spending that $75 made good sense. Have you checked out the math on that in a previous blog (that I may have missed?) I know we save 20% but they add a gratuity which I usually increase, so I’m not sure it’s really worth it!

    • by Amy from KC on March 12, 2011, at 8:24 pm EDT

      I don’t know about the DxDDP, but the regular plan does not cover gratuity or alcoholic beverages. TIW offers 20% off all beverages, including premium ones.

      The way I look at it, I am going to leave a tip either way. TIW still saves me 20% because I am only paying 80% of my food and beverage total. (We are careful to tip the servers on the entire, pre-discount total of the meal, and for exemplary service we tip more than 20% total.)

      • Yeah, I’ve often heard the criticism of TiW is that it’s really only a 2% discount, but that doesn’t make any sense at all, as you say, because you will leave a tip regardless (well, I should say most people will leave a tip regardless).

        It’s only a 2% discount if you wouldn’t leave a tip at all. If you would leave a tip less than 18%, it may not be a full 20% discount, though.

        We always tip 18% or more, so it has value for us.

  • by Amy from KC on March 11, 2011, at 4:27 pm EDT

    I also agree on shirts with collars for signature restaurants…and a few of the other nicer table service restaurants, too.

  • I hope the Signature restaurants continue to be a bad deal for the dining plan–and that people know it and behave accordingly. I’m not really happy about what the dining plan has done to the state of table service dining at WDW and would be really unhappy if I could no longer book even a Signature Dining experience less than 180 days in advance.

    Does anyone else remember walking into Epcot in the morning and walking up to a video kiosk to book dining for that same day? And that you had to be an AP holder or resort guest to even call in the day before and make a reservation? Ah, for the good old days! ;-)

    • Totally agree with you on all accounts here. I could rant on about this for quite a while. I do think that some of the newer restaurants (Sanaa, The Wave) are actually pretty good. Maybe that’s just because they haven’t been dumbed down yet, though!

      Awesome avatar, by the way!

      • Thank you, Tom! And I guess the fact that I’m in the photo means I should remember making reservations using the video kiosks! ;-)

        And thank you for actually taking the time and making the effort to present actual numbers! That so in step with style and vision of TouringPlans.com!

  • It would be nice not to have to plan my vacation 180 days in advance! I don’t see why Disney cannot leave some room for walk ins.

  • I take a slightly different slant to the economics.

    (For context, coming from the UK we tend to stay for 14 nights at a time. We tend to visit when “free” DDP is available and, considering the relatively cheap Ultimate park tickets we can buy this side of the pond, find it good value of part of a package deal.)

    When it comes to signature dining, we are slightly fussy. For example, in the past we would have visited Le Cellier in the evening, but we wouldn’t now go there for 2 credits and choose to visit at lunch instead.

    However, in our upcoming trip we will be going to the California Grill and/or Artist Point. And we will use dining credits to pay. We will either skip one other table service meal per Signature we end up plumping for (no real hardship over 14 nights) or we will pay for another meal (maybe a morning we decide to have a sit-down breakfast). In a sense this means we get the Signature restaurant for the extra price of the opportunity cost of the missed meal or the cash cost of the meal we pay for elsewhere.

    With careful choice and timing the “value” of this cost is minimised and we get to enjoy Signature dining.

    Your mileage may differ…

  • While I know that this post is regarding the DDP, I have to say that the DxDDP is really a great value if you love to eat at the Signature Dining restaurants. My husband and I are going to Disney in May to celebrate our 10 year anniversary and we chose to get the DxDDP because it was incredibly cost effective for 2 adults.

    We are the type of Disney goers that always take advantage of the extra Magic hours, and so we are planning on using a snack credit to have a light breakfast, and then do a TS lunch each day, and a Signature dining each night. We figured out (based on the menus at the restaurants where we are eating dinner) that each of those dinners would cost more than the daily cost of the DxDDP. So, effectively we are getting lunch and 2 snacks free each day. We also did get a slight discount on the DxDDP rate when we booked, which makes it even more cost effective.

    Now, if we were going to Disney with the kids, we would never choose this plan. They wouldn’t eat enough, nor would Signature dining really be fun for them. But for adults – especially for a special occasion, it is totally worth it.

  • Also, what happens if one or more person(s) in the group is only interested in a nosh or a couple of appetizers because non of the entrees sound appealing. The plan constrains the entire group to use their daily credits in the same eatery at one time.

  • gratuity is included on some signature restaurants (like cinderella’s royal table and hoop dee doo revue) so add an extra 18% to the bottom line for those credits

  • I understand the feeling that the value may not be worth 2 dining credits for the signature restaurants in terms of price for food, but what about the experiences of the dinner shows like Hoop dee doo revue or Mickey’s backyard barbeque. Do you experienced Disney visitors think that kids (and adults) will find the show worth it?

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