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Where to eat: Dinner at Tony's Town Square Restaurant in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

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Published: September 3, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Some things cannot be helped when vacationing. For instance, one might get sunburned while swimming. One day it might rain. The one thing that you try to control but know you are taking a gamble on is dining. You could be going along having the time of your life, each day just a joy from sun-up to sundown...then BAM! You have an experience that takes away the magic from your trip. You feel dumbfounded and wonder what on Earth just happened.

My husband and I felt many of these emotions when we dined at Tony's Town Square Restaurant in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. I knew I was taking a big chance on making reservations here. The reviews were not completely positive, but I held out hope that maybe we would find out that it wasn't all that bad. Surely there was something positive about it. I mean, this is Walt Disney World. They have a lot of wonderful places to eat, some even award winning. This is the Magic Kingdom...where dreams come true...Mickey is always happy to see you...the happiest place on earth...right?

I should have seen the signs. First off, I have to explain my sense of humor. I have what I like to call a dry wit. My family prefers to call it sarcasm at its highest level, but I try not to be too unkind. I love T-shirts that reflect my humor, for instance on this trip I brought along some shirts that said, "I avoid clichés like the plague," and "Despite the look on my face, you are still talking." I wore the latter while flying. On this particular day, I wore my "I'm no rocket surgeon" shirt. I should have known something wasn't right when only three people understood the humor. I did have an elderly man say that I made his day by wearing such a funny shirt. But many others though gave me sympathetic looks, as if they were sorry I didn't become a rocket surgeon. This shirt began the dive into the pool of lost magic at Tony's Town Square Restaurant. I'm not sure, but it might be cursed. It definitely will not be going with us on our trip in a few weeks. No need to tempt fate.

We were getting hungry before our actual reservation. Our dinner reservation was for 8:15 pm. We were getting hungry around 5:30pm. So we took a chance and went to see if they could go ahead and seat us a couple of hours earlier than scheduled. They said that it was no problem at all and to sit over in the waiting area. It would only be ten minutes. This set off a few warning bells. A reservations restaurant that could easily seat us nearly three hours earlier than scheduled??? Hmmm. As we went to sit down, a cast member was twirling fake pizza dough in the lobby. She looked at my shirt and laughed. If she had only stopped there, it might have been a bit pleasant. She then began to air her grievances of fate, family, and her life to the two of us. She continued to twirl the fake pizza dough while saying that she actually had been on her way to becoming a rocket scientist, but then opened a bakery that lost money, and now here she is twirling fake dough at Disney World. Her family is filled with brilliant doctors and scientists, but what is she doing?!? Twirling fake dough at the Magic Kingdom. During this tirade, two little children were anxiously trying to get her attention and ask about the pizza dough. My husband actually pointed out to her that she had some interested customers. She ignored them for most of it, but was then short with them while answering their questions. I saw a little Cinderella and pirate walk dejectedly back to their parents. She continued to discuss her horrible fate, though I tried to point out that she at least enjoyed her job. She snorted her derision at such a thought. With grateful hearts, we were summoned to the hostess desk and were able to escape the dark pizza dough lady.

Caprese
Tomato and Mozzarella salad ($7.49)

As shocking as that was, we still held out hope that our meal would be worth all the drama of the lobby. We were squeezed, and I do mean squeezed, in between two tables. Our elbows were in danger of hitting our neighbors in the back. While looking through the menu, we decided to avoid what we would normally order at an Italian restaurant. It's vacation, time to try something new. We began with a Tomato and Mozzarella salad ($7.49). The tomatoes were fresh with the shallots and had just enough balsamic vinegar dressing. The breadstick that accompanied it was very stale and difficult to chew.

Cannelloni
Cannelloni ($16.99)

For our entrees, which came way too quickly after our appetizers, I chose the Cannelloni ($16.99) while Chuck picked the Cioppino ($23.99). The Cannelloni were three pasta shells filled with a mixture of sausage, ground beef, and ricotta cheese. They were topped with shredded mozzarella, marinara sauce, and Alfredo sauce. It looked promising. The cannelloni was chewy. The meat and sausage mixture was spiced so strongly that you could not tell exactly what flavor you were supposed to taste. The marinara and Alfredo were incredibly salty. I began to dissect these to see if anything would taste well on its own. Despite these efforts, I eventually gave up and placed my napkin over it. I was saddened now that I had allowed them to take my partially eaten salad to make room for this entrée.

Cioppino
Cioppino ($23.99)

Chuck's Cioppino is supposed to be a classic seafood stew. It was indeed in a large bowl, and it did have clams, mussels, calamari, and even a few shrimp. It also had pappardelle noodles in the tomato-based broth. After a few bites though, he also said that it was as if someone had dumped a load of spices and salt all over the food. Some of the clams even tasted a little gamey. Chuck remarked that it reminded him of something you would get out of a Chef Boyardee can. He loves seafood, and for him to give up after a few bites is saying quite a bit. Our waitress came by, saw that we hadn't really eaten, and asked why. When we told her that our entrees tasted a little off, she shrugged her shoulders and took the plates away.

Chocolate cake
Hazelnut chocolate cake ($5.99)

Our desserts arrived. Chuck stuck with ice cream ($4.99) while I tried the hazelnut chocolate cake ($5.99). Both were good, but we didn't finish either one. We really wanted something filling. We paid and left (and luckily dodged the angry pizza dough lady). After walking out we quickly towards Tomorrowland and bought a pretzel and hotdog. Not exactly the meal we wanted, but we were desperate to get the horrible tastes out of our mouths and needed something to fill our abused stomachs. Chuck felt very nauseous after his seafood. We had to go to first aid to get him some Pepto Bismol. Based on these two meals, I cannot recommend this restaurant. I now see why many a reviewer on a variety of websites have given such negative comments. I had actually made a reservation here for our upcoming trip with our boys when I made this for the two of us. I quickly canceled it. Until I hear that there has been a new menu implemented, renovations for space to sit and enjoy your meal, and a kinder staff, I do not see us darkening the door of this establishment again.

Readers' Opinions

From James Koehl on September 3, 2013 at 10:08 AM
Terrific article as always. I wonder if the food staff at WDW will hear about this.
From Jack Curley on September 3, 2013 at 10:31 AM
You would think that the most visited theme park in the United States would have more and better table service restaurants. I've always had trouble getting reservations in the Magic Kingdom.
From Anon Mouse on September 3, 2013 at 10:54 AM
It's kind of funny that you didn't get the humor from the fake pizza dough lady in the same way that people didn't get the humor from your sarcastic T-shirts.... If they are not funny, continuing exposure to them is worse. Just run away.

It is funny how you dutifully paid for your meals. I would have sent them back or got a refund especially since you didn't touch them. I always take the restaurant reviews seriously. Sorry, there are too many choices so why take a chance on a bad restaurant?

From Robert Niles on September 3, 2013 at 11:03 AM
Okay, I might be guilty of a thread hijack here, but I hate, hate, hate the whole "I'm funny because I'm blowing you off and being rude" aesthetic that pollutes too many restaurants, especially at the Walt Disney World Resort. From Amanda's description, I don't think that's what the pizza dough lady was going for here, but I know that's the schtick at Whispering Canyon Cafe and the Prime Time Cafe. And I hate it, because it interferes with providing acceptable customer service when something does go wrong. I blasted Whispering Canyon for that in a review a few years back, and I'll never visit that sorry excuse for a restaurant again, as a result of that incident.

All that said, we do need people to "take one for the team" and try poorly reviewed restaurants now and then, so that we'll know if they've made a change for the better. In this case, though, it appears that the answer for Tony's is "not yet."

From Neil Trama on September 3, 2013 at 11:23 AM
Yikes! I remember enjoying this restaurant a few times over the years, including after reading some bad reviews at the time. This however was a long time ago and it seems things have taken a turn for the worse. I'm lucky enough to be from the Northeast where we have so many amazing Italian restaurants that I rarely visit any on vacation so it's unlikely I'll be venturing back to Tony's anytime soon.

RE: The pizza dough lady. It seems hard to believe that Disney's customer service has sunk to the level that she wouldn't be immediately fired for that kind of behavior so I suppose it was supposed to be humor. But how does that fit in with the theme of Tony's Town Square? Sounds like she wanted to be a Jungle Cruise skipper but they gave her the job of fake pizza dough tosser instead and she's still aiming for the promotion.

Lastly, Robert, don't ever go to eat at a Dick's Last Resort!

From Rob Pastor on September 3, 2013 at 11:43 AM
This is a prime example of why I only eat at counter service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom now. I've never had a good experience at a MK full service restaurant. I much prefer meals at Columbia or Pecos Bill's, where they have very good food at more reasonable prices. Plus, you don't have to make reservations months in advance that ruin the spontaneous enjoyment of vacations.
From Amanda Jenkins on September 3, 2013 at 11:54 AM
Trust me, this lady was not putting on an act. My shirt set off her anger towards her family succeeding and her feelings toward not being accepted by them. She was not trying to be funny. I wanted to try this place before bringing my kids to see if it was an okay place to eat. I didn't expect it to be Victoria and Albert' s but I was hoping it would be a decent non-character experience. As for my paying for the food, that's just me. I've never been able to not pay even if it was a horrible experience.
From Mike Gallagher on September 3, 2013 at 11:57 AM
So what's wrong with Chef Boy-R-Dee? ;)
From Robert Niles on September 3, 2013 at 12:19 PM
I've never seen a can of Chef Boyardee go for $16.99? Well, maybe at a Whole Foods, but, hey... ;^)
From Brandon Mendoza on September 3, 2013 at 12:43 PM
The whole "I'm funny because I'm blowing you off and being rude" schtick doesn't belong at any Disney Park or Resort!

Personally, I like trying restaurants that some people have rated low. A lot of times restaurants get reviews from people who like to complain so I take most reviews with a grain of salt. I prefer word of mouth from friends that have similar tastes as I do.

From 50.37.4.210 on September 3, 2013 at 1:42 PM
I know I will hear some grumbling about this but here goes...as a DVC member AND rabid Domestic Disney Parks fan, I have had the worst trouble finding acceptable food venues in WDW. I will profess that Disneyland is where my heart is but we seem to go to WDW more often (we live in Nevada). The food is horrible for the most part. Since I live in a state with mega casinos- although we live 20 minutes from Lake Tahoe and NOT anywhere near Las Vegas- the food matches some of the lesser quality casinos at best. It is buffet food and most of the time, not very good. We have found success at times at Mama Melrose, The Brown Derby and The California Grill but other than that the other food is cafeteria inspired for the masses. I understand that we are at a theme park and hot dogs, chicken strips and burgers are the food of the day, but when you are visiting for a lengthy bit of time, you want something good. Thank heaven for our DVC and a kitchen in our room. Disneyland offers some fabulous choices that are different and tasty although they keep messing with the menus and taking off my favorite dishes.

This article was helpful as I, too, retry restaurants that have had bad reviews to see if something has changed. So far, maybe the service or menu has been amended but the taste of the food hasn't. It all pretty much tastes the same. Meh. Please, I am sensitive to others tastes and know that this will not make me popular. And for those that think I am a big complainer, I am not. I would have eaten the meal, paid for it and acted like everything was fine. I would have made a list of things that were good and others that were bad (in my head or to my husband) and left it at that saying something similar to, "Maybe we should avoid that place next trip."

From Andy Guinigundo on September 3, 2013 at 2:41 PM
It's been a few years since I've been to Tony's, but it's probably not even close to the best Italian in WDW.

Really the best bet for table service in MK is Be Our Guest. I like it for counter lunch too. But, really if I'm on vacation and have dining plan, if I'm not going Be Our Guest, it's somewhere, anywhere else for table service. So many better choices at the WDW hotels or EPCOT (I guess just not Whispering Canyon for Robert...)

From 65.33.226.3 on September 3, 2013 at 2:51 PM
Try being a Vegetarian or Vegan at Disney.. It's nearly impossible to eat there b/c Disney either does not properly train the staff or they don't care.
From Gabriel Schroll on September 3, 2013 at 4:05 PM
Just want to make a small correction. Magic Kingdom is not the happiest place on Earth. That would be Disneyland.

Magic Kingdom is the most magical place on Earth.

Anywho....I love the salmon dish at Columbia House, and I love the Liberty Tree Tavern dinner. Outside of that, Magic Kingdom has pretty awful food. I do like the ice cream waffle sandwich with nutella at the little counter service place by the Christmas store, but MK is just a poor place to eat.

From Anthony Murphy on September 3, 2013 at 4:14 PM
Very good (and in my opinion accurate) review. I was going to give them another chance, but thanks for saving me from getting killed by my family.

My family usually stays away from Tony;s. Its been pretty hit or miss with us.

I have actually found that my family really doesn't like Italian Food at Walt Disney World (besides the Italy Pavilion). I don't know if it is the water or the tomatoes, but something always seems to be missing. Of course, I am comparing it to Chicago which has plenty of excellent Italian restaurants. Speaking of Chicago resturants, Robert Niles, don't go to Ed Debevic's :)

And I am sorry, Mama Melrose is the WORST restaurant at WDW. My family feels very strongly about this.

From Robert Niles on September 3, 2013 at 6:43 PM
Ed Debevic's is the only restaurant I've ever been asked to leave. That was a really, really bad encounter. Yeah, so, no danger of me ever going back there!
From steve lee on September 3, 2013 at 7:43 PM
No vegetarian options? Seriously? My vegetarian girlfriend eats better than I do at the parks.
From Robert Niles on September 3, 2013 at 9:04 PM
Inspired by our discussion here, I asked on our Facebook page, what's the worst table-service restaurant in the Orlando theme parks -- the one, based on your experience, others really ought to avoid? Check out some of the answers over there!
From 174.237.32.44 on September 4, 2013 at 4:28 AM
I must say that you should not have paid for this meal. The restaurant management would have understood that you did not eat your food. I also wonder why you would not have wanted to provide your comments to management so that they could do better?
From Matt Babiak on September 4, 2013 at 5:04 AM
The "funny because I'm being rude giving you food" schtick made for a solid SNL sketch not too long ago, but at an actual sit down meal that's quite awful. I went to Tony's 3 years or so ago and I hated it. The whole atmosphere could get some work-not bad, but not Disney level experience. The food was the worst part. If I'm in MK, I'm eating at Columbia Harbor House, Liberty Tree Tavern, Be Our Guest, or a chicken/hot dog stand. Even the little fish and chips and beer stand in Epcot as soon as you walk in from the back exit was nicer, with much better food to boot.
From Melissa Donahue on September 4, 2013 at 1:44 PM
Robert, I have to ask... What did you possibly do to get the boot at Ed Debevic's?
From 98.227.60.180 on September 4, 2013 at 2:49 PM
I was so excited to see another Amanda Jenkins column on this site..it's been too long and she is my favorite writer on here besides Robert Niles himself. What I like about Amanda's columns is that it feels like a good friend telling me a story while out at lunch...and more often than not I agree with what she's saying.

This column made me think about how I behaved in restaurants about five or ten years ago: back then, I never sent food back or refused to pay for something that was not good. I always felt that it was my mistake for having ordered something that ended up being bad. But a few years ago a friend encouraged me to change my thought process and to send things back when they were awful. I think everyone should do that. It is not your fault as the customer if the food is terrible and you don't like it. You should not have to pay for it if you take two or three bites and decide you cannot finish the meal because it is bad.

The thing is, the food quality will never improve unless people send things back to the kitchen. If food keeps coming back and that shows up in reports, then management will get involved to correct the situation. If food is not being sent back, then management assumes there is no problems. Restaurants operate with very slim margins and the kitchen DOES NOT want to have food come back. It sounds to me like there are a lot of very inexperienced cooks in Tony's kitchen who are probably not trained very well and are just making things look like pictures they have taped to their stations. That's how things will be unless people start sending food back and writing letters of complaint.

I feel really badly that Amanda and her husband had to get a pretzel and hotdog after having dinner. That needs to go into a letter to Disney immediately...because you should never have to go eat something after you just paid for an expensive meal because you are still hungry since you did not like the food at dinner. Those prices for the seafood dinner that Chuck had are eye-popping, especially considering that it was so terrible.

From Amanda Jenkins on September 4, 2013 at 3:28 PM
I agree with many of you. I should have let them know then and there about our food. I will definitely do so the next time I have a bad experience. Hindsight is 20/20. I believe we were both in a state of shock from our dining experience. I know I was. Despite my sense of humor, I am typically a quiet, non confrontational type of person. It takes a lot to get me to say something immediately. I usually have to have time to reflect back and collect my thoughts. When I do though, I have always let Disney know when there has been something that is unacceptable.

Thank you so much everyone for the kind comments!

From 166.147.120.149 on September 4, 2013 at 3:53 PM
Amanda, I am curious when u went because I was there over the Labor Day weekend and had a great time.
From 50.192.148.57 on September 4, 2013 at 8:49 PM
Thank you for writing this article! My family and I have planned our Disney World trip For years and we will be leaving on Sept 9th to go! So I really appreciate the feedback of where to eat. You spend so much money for the trip to be right and you just pray that nothing goes wrong. Glad I know to be cautious of certain places or just eat somewhere else altogether! Great article and I also really appreciate everyones comments, which are just as helpful for my upcoming trip with my family! :)
From 98.148.50.84 on September 7, 2013 at 3:35 PM
Hi, Amanda,
I LOVE your sense of humor. As a prior Disneyland employee in management many years ago, I can tell you that when a guest's experience is disappointing, management wants to hear about it. A good restaurant has a manager go around to each table to find out if the guests are enjoying their meal. Obviously, this didn't happen at Tony's Town Square Restaurant. Honestly, the hourly employees serving you can sometimes blow off a disappointed guest's comments because hourly employees aren't accountable for bad meals; management is.

If you had simply asked if you could speak to the person in charge, you would have had this meal taken off your bill, and you would have been offered another meal--most likely free of charge. If the manager of Tony's wasn't available, simply filing a complaint at City Hall would have gotten you an immediate response, possibly free meal coupons for any other restaurant at WDW, or other types of compensation. The Disney Company takes guest complaints VERY SERIOUSLY as long as the complaint is legitimate, and management wants to please guests in order to avoid guest complaints. Guest complaints are the dreaded statistic that no manager wants to face. Jobs can be on the line if management gets too many guest complaints.

You were very kind and gracious, something that many people will be to avoid a scene during an unfortunate experience. Rest assure, a calm request to see management and the discussion that follows would have been handled discretely and courteously by management. I think you would have been happy how management would have made your experience much better if you had addressed the issue there in the restaurant instead of just writing your wonderful article. HINT: What did you get by writing this article? A free dinner? Free vouchers for other meals at WDW? Any compensation? No. You probably feel better by writing your great article, but you would have been much happier addressing the issue at that moment, getting appropriate compensation or satisfaction, and THEN writing your article.


Terry Caldwell
Lakewood, CA

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