What's the Best Type of Place to Eat in a Theme Park?

January 8, 2023, 3:40 PM · When it's time to eat, where do you look first when you're visiting a theme park?

Obviously, this specific answer will depend upon the park. If you're in Walt Disney World's Epcot, you might have a very different preference for where to eat than when you're in between coasters at Six Flags. But I would like to hear what type of place you tend to look for first, no matter where you are.

My hope is that our answers will provide park leaders with some fresh insight - what do devoted fans want to see when they're hungry? Should parks be opening more table service places? Or should they expand their food festivals? Maybe we want more bars, or more restaurants that accept mobile ordering. Or maybe we would just be happy with more food carts.

To kick this off, I always look to see if a park has a well-reviewed sit-down, table-service restaurant when I am visiting someplace new. As I get older, my standard for what I want to eat is getting higher and higher, and I find that table-service places are more likely to offer fresh vegetables and proteins than quick service places are.

There is one big exception to that, though - food festivals. If I see a special event in a park - whether it be at Disney or Universal or SeaWorld or someplace else - I will give those food stands a first look. Maybe I will find something just as good as from a sit-down place but in a reasonable portion at a cheaper price. It doesn't always happen, but it has often enough for me to give those marketplace stands a first look.

What about you? What's your first go-to when you get hungry?

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Replies (16)

January 8, 2023 at 4:28 PM

I'm with you, Robert — if there's a food festival going on, I'll usually give it a go. If that's not on the table, I'm usually looking for something table service with some snacks to tide me over.

January 8, 2023 at 6:17 PM

Not sure I can answer due to the point about the type of park, but there are two big factors. First, how soon will the park open and close? If it opens a little later and closes early I will always do counter service or eat before I get there to maximize time. Second, if there are long hours it will then depend on how good the theme of the restaurant is. So sit down at EPCOT almost always. Disney and Universal tend to have well themed highly rated restaurants, so if there is time, sit down it is. I try to avoid food at Six Flags as the food is incredibly terrible. I mean worse than prison food terrible. I adore the restaurants at EPCOT, and if I had to rate the Disney Parks it would be EPCOT, MK, DHS, DL, DCA, and AK last.

January 8, 2023 at 6:55 PM

Is there something on the menu my kids will actually eat? That’s my primary criteria.

January 8, 2023 at 7:37 PM

On a week long trip I’ll try to get in a few table service meals, and I gotta say the days with a table service dinner, I feel like a million bucks at the end of the night.

On the flip side, the long days with only counter service meals, I’m usually draggin’ by the end of the night.

January 8, 2023 at 8:01 PM

I'm generally on so many attractions that counter service is my usual bet. Some decent ones for each park and a quick meal nice. Now and then might indulge in longer if I have the time but mostly faster ones.

January 8, 2023 at 10:49 PM

If there's a food festival going on, I'll usually take a look at the booths and see if there is enough of interest to justify it. Otherwise, I almost always opt for counter service for speed, convenience, and cost. While I do enjoy sit down dining, it's rare that I feel like devoting an hour or more to a meal at a park, especially if doing so might compromise my ability to experience all the attractions I'd like to ride. That said, if I'm at a park with a really noteworthy table service restaurant, visiting a park I've been to several times, or have more than one day for a park, I'll sometimes go for the full service experience.

January 9, 2023 at 12:53 AM

If I'm in a park without any specific dining plans for that day, then I would lean towards ordering something on my phone. I've waited in enough lines for the rides and have little patience for people deciding what to get at the register.

January 9, 2023 at 8:19 AM

Of Course it depends on the Park. When at Universal Studios we like to hit Leaky Cauldron or IOA Three broomsticks...

As we are leaving the Park - Places like CowFish or NBC grill..
Nice to sit for a few and just relax....

January 9, 2023 at 9:31 AM

We tend to eat full meals (breakfast and lunch) at restaurants outside the parks. In the midafternoon and into the evening it's straight up "munch and move".

January 9, 2023 at 11:18 AM

Travelling from out of town, we don't want to waste our precious time in the parks with sit-down meals. Food festivals can be fun, though the last few they've had at Disneyland were understaffed and over-patronized, and I'm not waiting in line for 30 minutes to get a fancy eggroll.

So counter-service used to be the way to go, though at Disneyland, at least, mobile ordering has effectively killed counter-service. There's now one cashier per restaurant, leading to ridiculously long lines to order, and even if you use mobile order and order in advance, it can take 30 minutes or more after your return time to actually receive your food. I don't see anyone benefitting from mobile ordering (except, of course, the park, which saves the price of a few cashiers).

So, we've basically stopped eating at the park, and leave to eat then come back. It's beyond stupid--to save the cost of a few cashiers, they've lost my family as a customer for lunch and dinner. Honestly, it's almost as if they don't even want to serve us food and trying to convince us to eat elsewhere, which we do.

January 9, 2023 at 12:35 PM

Table service for sure. No lines since most theme park restaurants collect mobile numbers & do text notifications or take reservations. Entrees tend to be just a few dollars more than counter service, with more diverse selections. I find restaurants to be a good place to recharge between the morning ride marathon, and afternoon exploration.

Not a fan of counter service for 2 reasons- lines, and navigating crowded patios to find a table to eat at can be stressful.

Also a huge fans of in-park bars, and think there should be more of them.

January 9, 2023 at 1:00 PM

I voted Table Service, but more likely than not its counter/buffet that happens most. I'd rather have a couple of full meals than to graze all day, but I often find if you are at a park with a group of friends, grazing seems to be what happens as large groups have trouble picking a single spot. The other issue that comes up is the need to book reservations at table service spots days, weeks or months in advance. I'm usually not planning a once in a lifetime kind of trip, but rather a spur of the moment trip. As such, reservations are often gone. One thing I wish park F&B mgmt would do is to keep a percentage of tables open for walk ups. I think it's pretty obvious these days that there will be no lack of takers for those tables. It also may not make it any easier for last minute planners to walk up and get a seat, but I'd prefer a little bit of a shot at a seat then to know it's hopeless and find myself destined to return to the corn dog cart yet again.

January 9, 2023 at 1:21 PM

To each their own. I’m certainly in the minority as we bring our own food to the parks (or at least the ones that allow outside food). Food has to be the part of a theme park with the largest profit margin (maybe carnival games, but not everybody plays those). We will eat nothing going to a local park and will treat ourselves to something different at a park we travel to, but our standard is to eat outside the park for breakfast, eat our own snacks inside the park and bring in our own water or use courtesy cups (with exception to our visits to Holiday World and their free drinks, of course!).

January 10, 2023 at 7:46 AM

There are very few parks left in the US that I would be visiting for the first time, so for me it's usually food event stands for me. However, I do enjoy sitting down for at least one table service meal or 2 during a week's long vacation.

I do think many theme parks have upped the quality and variety of their counter service offerings that the difference between a quick service meal and table service meal is shrinking, aside from a few exceptional TS restaurants.

However, I really enjoy "grazing" throughout the day during various food festivals (especially at regional parks), because it allows you to try so many different items that in the end cost about the same as a single big boring entrée. I do appreciate some of the criticisms of the lines that the food festival stands can draw, but if you're not by yourself, a divide and conquer approach to the lines can really expedite the process.

January 9, 2023 at 6:20 PM

Just got back to cali from a 9 day trip to USF and WDW (6 PARKS TOTAL), we are a family of 5, with kids 18,7,5 we found counter top about 11:30 was the sweet spot for no lines and easy to find seating

January 10, 2023 at 8:53 AM

We don't eat in the parks often. I've come to really appreciate ordering food through the app at WDW. In my experience, the mobile order helps me secure a place to sit by either preventing folks from entering and just holding tables... or letting me figure out if my secret spots are open before we order food. I also like getting a reservation through the app and knowing my family will have a table waiting for us.

At Universal Orlando my favorite tip is to have lunch in Citywalk. Even at the peak of the busy season, there tends to be walkup availability at a number of restaurants and open seating at the quick service locations.

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