How do you prefer to order your food in a theme park?

October 12, 2018, 1:26 PM · We talk a lot here on Theme Park Insider about the food in theme parks: favorite meals, restaurants, cuisines, and so on. But here's a new question for you: What's your favorite way to get the food you eat in the parks?

Are you a sit-down, table-service family? Or do you prefer to grab and go? Some parks offer as much variety in their food service methods as they do in the food they serve. And with mobile and tablet-based ordering, leading parks now are expanding the options for how to get food from the kitchens to hungry fans as quickly and easily as possible.

So... all other things being equal, how would you prefer to order food in a theme park?

Let's start with table service. Sitting down to have a waiter take your order is perhaps the most relaxing way to enjoy a meal in the parks. But it's also often the most time consuming, too. That's why some fans like to do "double duty" with sit-down meals and book character meals that combine a meet-and-greet with a mealtime.

The other traditional form of food service in a theme park is counter service, or quick service, as many parks call it. But this method comes in several forms these days. The most common form is ordering from a cashier, then either waiting at a window to pick up your food or at a table for it to be brought out. In a few locations now, most notably Disney World's Be Our Guest at lunch, you order not from a cashier, but on a tablet or screen. Another variant of quick service is a food court or scramble service set-up, where you collect your food before heading to the cashier to pay.

Many parks are now offering mobile ordering services, where you place your order and pay on the park's app before heading to the restaurant to pick up your food. That's become a popular way to order at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, with Universal Orlando also recently beginning to offer the service, too.

Finally, there's just skipping restaurants altogether and getting your food from carts in the lands. From churros to turkey legs to ice cream and more, you can power through the day without ever darkening the door of a restaurant.

Customer preferences here can have a huge effect on a theme park's budget, as the labor requirements and workflow for each method vary greatly. Mobile and tablet ordering might allow a park to save money employing fewer cashiers and handling less cash, but they require parks to invest much more in information technology — building apps and ordering front-ends that can remain up and efficient 100% of the time. If parks are going to make those IT investments, they want to be certain that their customers want those systems.

At the same time, I am curious to see the differences in popularity between table service, traditional counter service, and food court set-ups, too. Space considerations often play a large part in dictating which system a park uses in a particular location, but should that really be the driving force in these business decisions?

And then there's the type and quality of the food. Different ordering and delivery methods lend themselves toward different types of food, so perhaps your preference for a specific type of food service ultimately is driven by the type of food you can get from it.

Let's break down your pros and cons for each method in the comments.

Replies (9)

October 12, 2018 at 2:24 PM

When I'm with family, we can go with table service for big meals and enjoy taking a break for a bit.

If I'm on my own, I prefer a faster place as I tend to be on the move a lot at the parks. Although I admit with aging, it does feel better to relax a bit longer so understand the appeal of a good table meal.

October 12, 2018 at 3:01 PM

Depends on the theme park. Let's be honest most parks in Orlando the food is over-priced and very average so "grab and go" or "cashier and sit down", however, it is sacrilege to adopt that approach at Epcot so that has to be table service.

October 12, 2018 at 4:30 PM

I actually don't have a singular preference....It can wildly vary, lol. I guess I'm more of a quick service guy.
For sit down restaurants, like Carthy Cirle, we planned that in advance, so that was a big part of the day, so we we knew that would take time.

I always forget about mobile ordering, but that's going to be something I try next time at the DLR.

October 13, 2018 at 12:18 AM

Interesting to think about. I like this survey.

October 13, 2018 at 8:47 AM

I eat at the hotels continental breakfast then don't eat again until after leaving the park, there is no way i'd pay $10-15 just for lunch.

October 13, 2018 at 6:56 PM

My preference depends on the day.
I have not used mobile ordering yet. While I'm not opposed to the idea in general, I'm not sure about using it at a theme park. I prefer mobile ordering at a place like Chick-fil-A. There, I know the menu inside out, I know the quirks of the app from repeated usage and so it's relatively painless. But at a theme park, I don't know the menu at each restaurant, I don't know the quirks of menu items or the app (how do I order extra ranch dressing or leave off the pickle for example?). It seems to me, I'd still have to go inside to look at the menu board (and look to see what other diners have on their plates to see what looks good) and by the time I slowly study the app and talk it out with my family, I wouldn't save any time. I'd still have to stand there and wait for my food to be prepared and my number called.

Just thoughts.

October 14, 2018 at 8:20 AM

We rarely eat at parks due to some interesting extreme food allergies. We tend to bring snacks so the kids aren't dying of hunger,(and so they dont die of cross contamination). Then eat outside the park after we are done. The rare occasion to eat in the park, I would prefer to order from a tablet as it eases the anxiety of getting to the cashier and trying to get everyone to tell the cashier what they want. I can tell you it's much easier to order for 6 people at Wawa on a tablet then subway/Publix.
When alone (just adults)we prefer table side.

October 15, 2018 at 4:58 PM

At Animal Kingdom I went to get some food from Restaurantosaurus(I think) and the queue was ridiculous. I went on the app and ordered, then off I went to pick-up my food. I think there were maybe 2/3 other groups that had done the same. It strikes me as strange that so few people are making use of it despite the long queues for the tills and the increased use/reliance on the WDW app.

October 17, 2018 at 4:07 PM

I agree with others, it depends on the day, the crowds and what I feel like.

The only one I don't like is mobile ordering (no I haven't tried and don't want to) and the reason is simple, I am there to enjoy the park, and to be immersed in the world they have created (or tried to). Having my phone with all the messages and email and detritus of everyday life (the very thing I am escaping from by being on holiday in a theme park) defeats the purpose.

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