Vote of the week: Counter service or table service for theme park dining?

February 15, 2013, 12:30 PM · Our post this week on planning a low-cost Walt Disney World vacation inspired a discussion in the forum on counter service vs. table service restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resort. The Disney Dining Plan has changed the economics of food service at Disney World, and now some fans are noting that they're finding significantly better value (and sometimes, even lower cost!) at the table service restaurants than the ubiquitous "quick service" food windows in the parks.

Crescent City Salmon Salad at Disney;and's Cafe Orleans
Table service (Crescent City Salmon Salad at Disneyland's Cafe Orleans)...

So let's make this our Vote of the Week. Which kind of food service do you prefer when eating a meal in a theme park? But let's not limit ourselves to the counter service vs. table service question. Plenty of visitors make a meal of a turkey leg or some other favorite food item available at the various snack carts in the parks. Others bring their own food with them, either to save money to accommodate their unique dietary needs. And some fans never eat inside a theme park, choosing to have lunch or dinner somewhere outside the park, or just to go without meals altogether. After all, if you're eating, you're not riding!

Ham and cheese quiche with house salad at Disneyland's Jolly Holiday Bakery
...or counter service (Ham and cheese quiche with house salad at Disneyland's Jolly Holiday Bakery)?

Of course, few people stick exclusively with just one of these options. Most theme parks fans mix it up. But what's your preferred option among these, the one you'd pick most often?

Please tell us, in the comments, some of your current favorite places to eat in a theme park, based on value and experience. And thank you, as always, for reading Theme Park Insider. We hope that you're enjoying our new look and will tell the other theme parks fans about the site!

Replies (17)

February 15, 2013 at 2:21 PM · In a theme park, I prefer counter service since I dislike table service with the long waits in ordering and the tipping expense. I prefer fast casual dining, which means quality foods, not merely burgers and fries, and a good selection of heated foods.
February 15, 2013 at 4:09 PM · I definitely prefer to take a break from the rides and enjoy table service. My favorites are Mythos and Confiscos at IOA and the restaurant inside Mexico at EPCOT. I also enjoy Finnegan's in USF, especially for a nice respite during Horror Nights :-).

I will say, though, that Universal's Croissant Moon at IOA and it's I-can't-spell-it-or-pronounce-it twin at USF have surprisingly good sandwiches and pasta salads, so we usually wind up hitting those spots once or twice on a trip as well. And, of course, Monster Cafe has the best themeing EVER, so we always at least buy a drink there, just to make sure we patronize it. And last year at Horror Nights it really seemed that they had stepped up the quality of food in the Cafe, so I hope it survives all the changes in the park.

February 15, 2013 at 5:28 PM · Melanie: Couldn't agree more. We dine at & greatly enjoy all the same table & counter service restaurants you mentioned at Universal. Good food & nice ambiance. At Disney though, we'll usually use the better counter service restaurants like Flame BBQ & Columbia House, since its a pain to have to do reservations so far in advance.
February 15, 2013 at 8:38 PM · We went to Disney World for the 1st time in January 2013. I loved the Lunch from Be Our Guest. It was shocking that the price was only 64$ for 4 of us and we each had deserts. The food comes in huge portions that we ended up taking ours home. We especially enjoyed the GPS table services they have. I highly recommend table services. We did counter services at our resort but honestly the prices were better in the theme parks then at the resort counter.
February 15, 2013 at 9:05 PM · When I visit a park, I'm there to ride rides. As a result, I almost always get something from a counter service restaurant. Occasionally, mainly at parks I visit often, I'll go to a table service restaurant, but due to the price it's uncommon. Also, unless the park's hours are sufficiently long, I usually like to get lunch in the park and dinner after leaving in order to save money.
February 15, 2013 at 9:18 PM · I recently ate at the blu bayou at Disneyland, and wow, it blows my mind the genius of Disney to incorporate a table service restaurant with the POTC ride. The ambiance is amazingly relaxing. Of course I get counter service most of the time but its nice to have the option of table service when you want to spoil yourself a little. Something about seeing the boats floating by and the bayou themeing that just works so well together. I'm not sure a ride/restaurant has even been done since then and that's a shame because it really is a whole other level of immersive story telling than just a restaurant, or just a ride. This and all of new Orleans square is Disneys opus magnus imo, and 45 years later still hasn't been beat!
February 15, 2013 at 9:58 PM · Be Our Guest lunch is actually counter service since you don't have a waiter. They've just replaced the counter with a computer.
February 16, 2013 at 6:39 AM · It depends on which park I'm at. If I'm at Universal or Disney I prefer the table service because I like to slow things down and enjoy. The food is also top notch at many of the table service restaurants and compatible prices to the counter service. Now at Cedar Point I prefer counter service because the wait for coasters is longer, never seem to get everything done in a day, and the pure indulgent of carnival food is why I choose counter over table. Plus I find that the table service there is standard at best that I can get at home. Location....Location....Location
February 16, 2013 at 6:47 AM · I agree that is depends on the park. Disney is a definite for the table service. I also really enjoy Mythos in IOA. But at my home park of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the only table service restaurants are a Sesame Street character meal and a restaurant that serves the best meals from the various counter service locations throughout the park. While BG had better counter service meals than most parks, they could definitely use some help in the table service department.

There is however one option you didn't mention Robert, probably because BG is the only park I know that is doing it. Both BGW and BGT as well as Seaworld Orlando offer self service pizza buffets without servers. It's along the lines of a CiCi's pizza, but the price is pretty darn good for a theme park. I am honestly surprised more parks aren't trying this out. BGW even did a holiday buffet in the same way this year for Christmastown.

February 16, 2013 at 11:26 AM · I think a lot depends on your own style of vacationing. Personally my husband and I can go either way, generally enjoying a mix of both counter service and table service. A lot can also depend on that day and what we're feeling like as well as what that park offers.

We don't always choose one or the other, often a mix of both depending entirely on our mood that day. For Example, a typical day at Epcot Center.
We'll have breakfast off property near our hotel, normally Perkins. Lunch is normal counter service, often at the Land Pavilion. Dinner can go either way depending on what we're feeling like. If we're wanting a good meal after a long day we'll often head over to World Showcase and see where we can slip in for dinner. Sometime we're not much in the mood for a heavy meal and will just pick up something at Mexico's San Angel Tavern.

So I think it depends on your style and mood, as well budget. However I don't think their is a single answer at work since most of us will snack at some point, at some park. I know I never pass up things like a Dole Whip at Magic Kingdom or a freshly fried Corn-dog at BGW.

February 16, 2013 at 3:42 PM · I like the snack carts. Especially ones that sell fruit. A lot of times, I'm tired from all the walking, heat, etc.. and nothing tastes better than fruit salad and water.
February 16, 2013 at 6:44 PM · Definitely a fan of Yak and Yeti at Animal Kingdom.
February 17, 2013 at 7:06 AM · Japan steakhouse at Epcot our favorite. And when family is in town character dining is always on the agenda.....
February 17, 2013 at 10:04 AM · Of course, left unsaid in the survey is that most theme park days will have a combination of eating experiences. The problem is that the rising expense limits what most people can do. I long for the days when I could plan for at least two meals in the park without having to think about it.
February 17, 2013 at 4:20 PM · The best of both worlds in 3 words:
Be Our Guest (for lunch)
If you make it past the lines it is delicious, prompt, immersive and awesome. Just ate there again today.
February 18, 2013 at 8:57 PM · Mr. Niles, the correct answer on a theme park enthusiast website is always BUFFET!
February 19, 2013 at 10:40 PM · I can tell you places NOT to eat at Sandusky ohio anyone of the snack carts all the food tasted like cardboard. and Chikfala which I found over rated.

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