Walt Disney World to expand new mobile food ordering system

May 17, 2017, 9:10 PM · The Walt Disney World Resort announced earlier this year that it would debut a new mobile ordering system at the Satu’li Canteen restaurant when it opens with the rest of Pandora - The World of Avatar in Disney's Animal Kingdom on May 27.

Now, Disney is revealing that it will expand its mobile ordering system to three more Animal Kingdom restaurants this summer: Flame Tree Barbecue, Pizzafari, and Restaurantosaurus. And Disney says that the system will expand throughout the resort at some point after that.

The mobile ordering system works through the same My Disney Experience mobile app that you use to manage your Fastpass+ and dining reservations. Just navigate to the restaurant in the app, then select the option to order. You are essentially "pre ordering" your food, as the restaurant won't start making it until you arrive and use the app to let them know to start. Then the app alerts you when your food is ready to pick up.

Here is Disney's video tutorial, showing how the system works:

The mobile ordering system accepts only credit card payments at this time, so if you are using the Disney Dining Plan, you'll have to queue for the registers, as usual. And if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies, you'll also need to go through the registers, so that a chef may speak with you in person about your order.

Basically, mobile ordering allows you to jump the queue of people waiting to get to a register, but does not allow you to move ahead of any backlog of orders already placed with the kitchen. I would think that in order to keep that backlog from growing that Disney might need to slow the intake of orders at the register in popular restaurants, making that wait longer or begin using the app to assign people specific return times. But when I worked at Disney, I spent exactly one day in food service, so I'm no expert at this sort of thing. It'll be interesting to see how mobile ordering affects the wait times to get food as it expands through the theme parks of the Walt Disney World Resort.

Replies (14)

May 17, 2017 at 9:26 PM · While I think it might be a good idea I see a bottleneck blocking access to the pickup area with everyone placing their order and standing around to get it.

May 18, 2017 at 2:00 AM · You are alerted when your order is ready to pick up. There won't be anymore of a bottle beck than there already is with the current register system.
May 18, 2017 at 8:42 AM · You're on target there ran6110. Not only that, but with people being able to order through the app and through the registers, there's no way for people to know how long of a line they're really standing in. The way it works now is that orders can only be taken so fast, about the speed that it takes the expediters to prepare them. By adding another avenue for orders to be placed, the governor (speed at which orders can be taken at registers) is gone, and could overwhelm the kitchens. Having the lines at the registers allowed guests to know how long it was going to take to eat, and could instead choose to eat somewhere else if the lines looked to long. With mobile ordering, guests cannot just look at the lines to evaluate how long they will be waiting for their food, and app users, who may not even be standing near the restaurant when they place their order, will have no idea how busy the place is they're ordering from.

Disney needs to go one way or the other (all mobile or all cashiers). Trying to satisfy both groups of guests is only going to cause problems.

May 18, 2017 at 11:22 AM · Having a long line at the pickup line is better than having another long line at the cash registers. That's one line being avoided so the guest can just reserve their table and pick up their food. What I would love even more is guests pick up a number and just place them at their tables so the restaurant can just deliver their food to their tables.

Which leads to other conveniences that they haven't considered yet like Disney Dining, which still isn't linked with reservations. It can't take cash payments or gift cards. Disney needs to learn from Amazon, the king of online ordering.

May 18, 2017 at 11:29 AM · @Anton - I'd much rather be waiting in the line that I know as opposed to the line of indeterminate length. If you place an order on MDE, you could theoretically arrive at the restaurant, clicking "I'm here", and end up waiting 15-20 minutes for a simple order. Now if MDE could tell you the current average wait for order expediting prior to ordering, it could work. However, I don't think the current system is setup that way, and there's no way to guarantee that guests are going to click "I'm here" within a certain time of ordering, meaning wait estimates could be widely inaccurate. Guests are stuck once they submit their order, so there should be some level of expectation that each CS location would need to deliver regardless of the ordering method. With lines at registers there's at least some level of knowledge of what diners are getting themselves into, and offers the choice to hold off until later in the day or choosing an alternative dining location.

Perhaps if restaurants can be split in half (many CS restaurants have duplicate or triplicate kitchens and expediting stations) with half of the facility expediting cashier orders while the other half expediting MDE orders it might work, and really the only way for MDE orders to be prepared expeditiously without bogging down orders from cashiers and vice versa.

May 18, 2017 at 11:42 AM · But you really don't know. You think you might know by eyeballing the length of line, but sometimes it is deceiving because you don't know who's ahead of you (a big family where one person is ordering for 8) or if the staff is slow or understaffed. In most cases, you're taking a chance. I would think a restaurant that has mobile ordering is inherently more efficient since it much take orders from the cash registers and mobile (thus doubling of orders), but it is also likely that few people try it too so it is underutilized so inexperience kills efficiency.

The added inexperience is in Avatar as well.

Maybe eyeball the pickup line instead.

May 18, 2017 at 12:15 PM · I feel that at the cashier you have some level of control. You can eyeball the lines, and occasionally be "that person" that goes to the left side of the cashier where there's no line, and get your order taken immediately. At the very least, you can usually tell who the "slow" people in line are and try to avoid them where possible. There's really no way to "eyeball the pickup line", because you don't know how many people roaming around the restaurant are actually waiting for an order, especially if many have also ordered through MDE. People waiting for MDE order presumably will just mill around waiting for their name to be called. There's no way to tell who actually placed their order before you or after you.

Ultimately, the expediting capacity of a CS restaurant is the same whether orders are coming in via mobile or cashier. The current kitchens are optimized to handle the flow of orders from just the cashiers at the rate a human can enter them. Adding mobile orders to the mix (without separating between kitchens) is going to overwhelm the system to the point where either cashiers will need to deliberately slow down taking orders when too many mobile orders are coming in (or fewer cashiers are available at any given time) or force guests to wait longer for food preparation regardless of order method.

We're dealing with 2 constants here..

1. The amount of orders that can be prepared by a CS facility in a given time period.

2. The number of guests wanting to eat.

However, by eliminating the line, it removes the physical barrier many guests use to guide when and where to eat their meal. With that barrier removed to those ordering through MDE, it will likely exceed the maximum expediting capacity of the most popular CS restaurants and create a slew of unsatisfied customers that wait much longer than they expect for their meals to be prepared. Let's be honest, people already get annoyed that it takes 5-10 minutes for as few as 2 entrees to be prepared.

Disney either needs to create separate facilities or restaurants for MDE ordering if this experiment is going to work during the busiest days of the year. I think assuming "few people try it" is optimistic, because Disney guests have been proven to be quite adaptable and word of "shortcuts" and "tricks/tips" to reduce line waiting spreads like wildfire on WDW fan sites. Disney should really see how this effort works at Satu'Li Canteen before committing to rolling out the concept to existing CS restaurants.

May 18, 2017 at 12:29 PM · Russell, I agree with you about seeing how it works before committing to rolling it out, but Robert's report doesn't go much into if/when it will really show up resort-wide. I think it's possible that Disney is trying to get this going across Animal Kingdom this summer specifically to see how it works. Satu'Li Canteen is a restaurant with a kitchen and an overall layout designed for this new system. It's probable that a disproportionate number of those eating there would have used the app because of the novelty of it being only there as well as a disproportionate number of Disney-savvy app users being in that part of the park in the coming months as opposed to more novice tourists who will eat at any counter-service restaurant because it's all new to them.
By spreading this concept across Animal Kingdom and restaurants not specifically set up for it, it may give them more reliable data when deciding what to do long-term/resort wide.
In other words, they may be expanding the test of the concept as opposed to just expanding the concept itself.
May 18, 2017 at 2:00 PM · "Disney either needs to create separate facilities or restaurants for MDE ordering"

Why would they do that? Mobile ordering is about encouraging existing facilities to be more efficient and productive. It's not about finding new demand that doesn't exist. They won't be getting more guests. It's the same pool of customers. It's also about reducing cash register staff to reduce costs and make more profit. Lines are a side issue and while I think they want to improve customer service, lines won't be going away and they are already trying to remove one line out of two. I expect all quick service restaurants to have this service so you won't have a choice.

"either cashiers will need to deliberately slow down taking orders when too many mobile orders are coming in"

Since when did cashiers slow down on taking orders. Doesn't happen. The restaurants will gladly take any order they get. Usually the kitchen suffers when too many tickets are in the system. BTW: If you think cashiers will actually slow down the line because they think the kitchen can't keep up, then ordering via mobile gets you the better result. It's another argument that waiting the regular line makes no sense and inaccurate in gauging wait time for the food.

May 18, 2017 at 12:50 PM · I agree. However, Disney doesn't "test" concepts if they don't have intentions to roll them out wide, at least not on this scale (full guest implementation). If they were truly "testing" they would select a small group of APs or DVC members to try out a new concept. By rolling this out to all guests on MDE, even in just one restaurant and soon to others in DAK, Disney is not really "testing" it. They're determining how applicable it can be across the entire resort, including hotels and Disney Springs, or simply converting locations one park at a time starting with what is likely to be the most crowded park this summer, DAK. The announcement that the MDE ordering system will go beyond Satu'Li Canteen indicates to me that Disney is "all in" on this concept.

FWIW, McDonald's in my area (DC Metro) has started to allow online (through the MCD app) and touch screen ordering. What has resulted is an "ordered chaos" situation with just a single cashier with continuous lines for guests not wanting to order via the touch screen or app, and dozens of people milling around the pickup counter not knowing who's order is coming next. Perhaps Millennials are attracted to the ZERO interaction required of these mobile ordering systems, but I think a lot of Disney fans will find this to be a huge turn off and eliminates one of Disney's key differentiators, their customer service. If the industry leader in food service is having trouble with mobile ordering, I doubt Disney is going to be able to make it work without some serious growing pains, and I doubt it's going to make their food service or guest satisfaction any better.

I hope Disney keeps this limited to what they've announced so far for a while (at least for a year or 2), but something tells me this "minor" expansion to 3 other DAK CS locations is just the first of many dominoes that will fall before the end of the summer.

May 18, 2017 at 1:30 PM · In theory, sounds great for guests. In practice, it'll may make the "standby" lines longer the way FastPass does as it won't add capacity. Even Starbucks has struggled with mobile orders and what it's done to regular lines. In NYC, I've actually walked into Starbucks stores and instead of waiting in line, bypassed it by ordering on my phone, beating those who would have been ahead of me. Those who don't know about the app? They often don't wait, but instead walk out the door. In NYC, that's fine--there's likely another Starbucks (or alternative) across the street. At Disney, with all their closed food locations depending on time of day, the customer doesn't likely have that option. If their line grows, it's another thing that will deduct from the enjoyment value of their visit.
May 18, 2017 at 2:09 PM · Disney will complete this within the year. There's no reason they'll wait. Fastpass was done equally quickly. There's too much money at stake. Meaning the technology is already spent and tested. They hope to generate profit by reducing the number of cashiers and increasing kitchen efficiency. What's missing is ordering kiosks at the restaurants. Furthermore, why not have dining plans for the day guests?
May 19, 2017 at 12:36 PM · Anton
Cashiers are indeed slowing down their performance when counter/ kitchen is too slow.
They reduce there speed indirectly because they cannot take the next transaction in queue because there is too much client waiting their tray and so the queue does not move anymore.
Then if disney reduces the labor in register and not staff correctly the kitchen/ counter , you will create wait time ( capa < demand). In addition. If your equipment capacity is not strong enough, whatever the labor you inject, you will create wait time (ie you can cook 150 lb max of french fries per hour and max 600 stears per hour and 500 buns an hour etc etc). So too much demand will put the kitchen equipment on knees.
At last, if clients wait the food at table , they will decrease rotation of table, it means you will have even more difficulties to find a table... regards. Al
May 20, 2017 at 4:59 AM · Calm down everyone, you will know how long the wait is and you won't have to guess! Eventually it will work like other preordered food places. Panera Bread does this well. If you order ahead it tells you 5-10 min wait as the standard. Order at 12:30pm on a weekday near businesses and the wait now says come pick it up in 45 min at 1:15. That wait accounts for all orders in the system at that time from preorders and from in store orders. I'm sure Disney will be rolling that type of thing out and perfecting it to something better.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive