I often try to make that "meal" be in the middle of the afternoon between typical lunch and dinner, or very late so I am not fighting the crowds. This only works if your party is all adults needless to say. They rest of the time we "snack" usually drinks and a munchie, breakfast in our room if we aren't on a time share. Creal and toast are easy.
One of the best things about Disney is their meal plan! We buy the largest plan everytime we go, and we have more than recouped the cost in 3 or 4 days. We always have more food than we can eat and bring back all kinds of drinks and muchies so we don't loose one bit of what we paid for. We eat at all of the top, expensive restaurants. Places we never would be able to eat at normally. We can have the top items on the menu like steak and seafood and not have to eat burgers and chicken like at home. \That is where the meal plan really pays off.
I sure wish the other parks would match Disney on meal plans. We are doing Universal this next visit and their plan just doesn't look like it will work for us or save us that much money.
I love Sci-FI dine-in not because the food is the best around but because the setting is fantastic and lets you get out of the heat for an hour or so.
If I'm in the park early and want something to eat I'll often go for the tray service. It's normally good food but is also fast so you can get on with heading to attractions.
Note to parks, especially the seasonal ones. I (and likely a lot of others) would eat more at the park, and be there longer, if a sit down breakfast or dinner option was available. As long as the price is fairly reasonable, the place has good atmosphere, and the food is of good quality, it would probably be full. I realize that there is a thin profit margin in the restaurant business, but parks lose customers for too much time during the day to lunch and dinner at some restaurant outside the property. Give them good food options and keep their butts inside the gate.
I think that the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens parks offer the most consistently excellent food among the top chains, and it uses tray service more than any other option, so it's definitely compatible with good food, too.
You already paid the parking fee which they don't charge you 2x in one day (Keep that Ticket/Receipt). I've been to very few parks that don't have outside food venues within 5 miles of the park entrance. Take a break from the screams of the crowd and noise of the park, go outside the park. You'll find that the food is better, the price better, and you'll feel more rested than you would have been inside the park. Most establishments outside of parks also provide free refills and better service for drinks, which you'll need to stay hydrated on those hot summer days. Take an early dinner / late lunch to avoid the heat of the day and beat the crowds. You won't regret it.
When eating in a park, I tend to prefer food I can eat while walking, because I'm there to ride rides, so I want to get into the next line. Maybe not an issue at parks where lines are so bad they have to institute fastpass and line-checkins to assuage those who already paid.
Can't really just leave for lunch at a park like Universal, where it can take a half hour just to get to and from your car from the ENTRANCE to the park. Easier at parks where parking is close to the entrance, and the parks aren't too deep (hard to get from the back of Cedar Point for example, or from Festhous in BGW).
On the other hand, when I'm at BGW, I WANT to eat their food (plus there isn't anything too close to the park).
BTW, I wouldn't want to eat anywhere in a park that I felt at all compelled to TIP at. I already paid to park, I paid an exhorbitant fee to get into the park to be served by the employees. I don't tip the guy who helps me get into my ride seat, why would I tip someone to serve me overpriced food that they pretty much force me to buy by not allowing me to bring my own food into the park?
So I ask -- is it expected to tip in restaurants in theme parks? I guess if you are going to a fancy sit-down restaurant, but for example have people been tipping at the Three Broomsticks in IOA?
Disney has a great new feature on their website where you can see what sit downs have availability and actually make priority seating instantly! Those of us that have android phones really think it is great because you make priority seating arrangements on the fly! Super cool!
Then again, it depends on which theme park. EPCOT is, of course, going to be top on my Table Service places vs Animal Kingdom which is more a counter service place!
You can get burgers and fries practically anywhere, but add an extensive toppings bar (Pecos Bill's, Magic Kingdom) and now we're talking. Buffets are everywhere, but how about an Indian/African fusion buffet (Tusker House, Animal Kingdom)? My wife's all-time favorite is San Angel Inn at the Epcot Mexico pavilion (back when it was better). Again, Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen around here, but where else can you have an intimate meal at the bottom of an Aztec temple with an erupting volcano in the distance?
Yes, I'll admit I have a preference for Disney, and I feel this is one area where their "plussing" is very evident. Take something mundane like meatloaf, add a 1950's decor and a server who plays the role of your smarmy Aunt and you have something special (Prime Time 50's Cafe).