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How Can Concepts Deliver the Happiest Restaurants on Earth?

For many, Disney World is synonymous with The Happiest Place on Earth and conjures up images of being immersed in the story where the characters come to life and where friends and families go to create memories that last a lifetime.

Kaytee Schrantz ProfitalityKaytee Schrantz, Engineering Manager, Profitality Labor GuruCreating and operating a world that delivers such happiness while also being very profitable was not the byproduct of only sprinkling some pixie dust, although that did help some. Instead, Disney uses industrial engineering principles to create offerings that maximize profits while also delivering magical experiences that the parks and resorts have become known for. I know this firsthand having spent 12 years working within the Disney organization before recently joining the Profitality Labor Guru team. Indeed, there is a lot that foodservice operators from other segments can learn from Disney’s well thought out approach.

A great example of this type of offering are the character dining experiences. Character dining operates like a traditional full-service restaurant with added Disney flair where costumed characters travel from table to table interacting with guests as they dine in the restaurant. Given the uniqueness of these restaurants, careful attention must be paid when designing and operating these spaces. 

The first step in creating these one-of-a-kind dining experiences is in their facility layout and design. On top of the detailed and ornate theming to match the character offering, placement of key elements throughout the restaurant is carefully planned to maximize space utilization and create efficient guest flow. To facilitate costumed characters making their way throughout the restaurant and ensure they do not inadvertently miss any tables, the layout creates a path from one table to the next. Aisle widths and available space around tables take into account the specific character sizes and widths of costumes. Imagine the differences in space requirements if The Beast is roaming about, compared to Beauty. The design allows for character entry and exit points throughout the restaurant according to the character flow to ensure the facility does not exceed “on stage” labor maximums. Disney is also very mindful when using wayfinding to provide guests visual directions but not take away from the magic of being transported into another world.

Even though these dining experiences technically function as foodservice operations, adding character and show elements clearly makes them “eatertainment” concepts. As with any good attraction at Disney, these dining facilities come with well-thought-out and executed queues. Most character dining facilities include multiple checkpoints in the arrival process and each one is carefully planned for in terms of queue length, placement, and entertainment elements. Guests line up to check in for their reservation, wait to hear their name called indicating their table has been assigned, and in some locations, wait to have their pictures taken by one of Disney’s photographers with a character prior to being sat at their tables. Breaking up the wait into different elements creates a feeling of progress and in turn makes the wait time feel shorter which drives a better guest experience.

Profitability is always top of mind at Disney and one key tactic in driving profitability is to ensure maximum utilization of a facility or asset. Character dining experiences at Disney World are extremely popular and are in very high demand. So, if the systems used to book reservations are not designed effectively, tables could go unused thus negatively impacting profits. Disney World’s booking window opens 60 days in advance and due to its popularity, character dining experiences sometimes book out just after that window opens so walk-up demand is unlikely. To minimize the risk of under booking, Disney is meticulous about developing and maintaining up-to-date restaurant templates to ensure the proper number of tables are available even as far as 60 days out. But a lot can happen in 60 days and guests plans and Disney’s operating parameters can change. To account for this, Disney uses optimization techniques to continually maximize the number of guests coming through the restaurant further driving profitability.

It is evident when visiting Disney parks and resorts that careful attention has been paid to the planning and executing of all aspects of the experience including character dining experiences. 

You can say that no design detail is too small at Disney. This was what Walt Disney developed and although he has not been around for a while, the essence of the magic he created remains a constant. One main difference between then and now, though, is the application of industrial engineering in all aspects of the Disney operation to deliver a magical experience to all that enter the parks, and it is important to note this applies to customers and cast members (Disney’s term for employees) alike. Perhaps Walt Disney knew that the employees/characters are no. 1 in delivering the experience, just like an optimally
operated restaurant does.

Using various industrial engineering principles at Disney creates memorable and magical experiences that would even impress Tinkerbell. Foodservice operations can do the same, which along with some Pixie Dust of their own, can provide a differentiable competitive advantage. 

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