Are unscrupulous scalpers ruining the Disney Dining Experience?

Re-imagined California Grill Takes Disney Dining to New Heights

Anna Skamarakas, one of the original panelists on the Disney World Moms Panel (so she knows what she’s talking about), has exposed a very real problem with the Disney Dining system. On a new vlog, Skamarakas fumes over the state of Disney’s dining reservation system and how a few unscrupulous souls are making an already stressful situation worse.

If you’re not familiar with the Disney dining system, guests can make their advanced dining reservations (ADRs) 180 days out (up to 190 days if you’re a guest of a Disney resort). Disney opens online reservation at 6AM Eastern and phone reservations at 7AM. So set that alarm clock early, fire up all the computers at your house, and have your credit card ready.

The system evolved out of Disney’s desire to maximize profit by managing labor hours. Even though it seems they’re leaving money on the table, Disney managers would rather leave tables open with no guests because they don’t have enough staff to serve them, then have extra staff standing around waiting for guests to walk-up and eat. My suspicion is Disney manager bonus structure has more to do with meeting labor efficiency numbers than generating revenue.

Because of this, popular restaurants and dining times usually fill up immediately; often times before the 180 day window opens because of the early opportunity resort guests have to book.

The pressure to secure an ADR is made worse by the Disney Dining Program. Depending on your package level, you have one or two sit down restaurants a day. With the price for the package going up every year (and the benefits being reduced) you’re under pressure to maximize value by getting the best sit-down restaurants.

There’s also the blackbox that is Disney’s secret formula for how many tables are available at what time. They do hold some back for reservations closer to the date (although you can’t count on that) and deluxe resort concierge guests get special treatment. Plus there is the occasional cancellation. That means, if you don’t get the ressies you want at 180 days, you are stuck checking every day to see if something opens up.

Minor industries have built up with fee-based concierge type services that will check Disney’s website for your desired dining spots and then email you if that spot opens. You’re still responsible for calling or jumping online to finish the booking though.

I’m not sure why Disney would be happy with a reservation system that works like this. It’s the complete opposite of magical. But it gets worse.

Back to Skamarakas’ video. There is now a group of people who use computer automation to ‘snipe’ the best reservations and then scalp them back to Disney guests for a fee (usually $15 to $20). I don’t know why anyone would want to use a service like this, if they’re unscrupulous enough to scalp tickets, why would you trust them with your credit card.

Here’s Skamarakas with a little more detail on how it all works:

To me the ideal system would balance Disney’s needs to be efficient with labor with guest’s desires to enjoy sit-down restaurants without the stress of making ADRs 180 days out. There would also be enough tables held in reserve for day-of reservations to allow for some spontaneity to return to the Disney dining experience.

As I said above, the fact that we even need tools and services to spot open ADR times or have a company that can manipulate the system and resale ADRs, lets you know how broken the system is. It’s already gone too far, Disney needs to get a fix in place ASAP.

Have you ever used an ADR Concierge service? What about paying a scalper for an ADR? Do you think Disney has a responsibility to prevent scalping of ADRs and fix the system to take the stress out of the Disney dining experience?

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29 thoughts on “Are unscrupulous scalpers ruining the Disney Dining Experience?

  1. Jane Ferris

    I feel the overall level of service has suffered in recent years. I’m not sure if it’s because they have contracted certain areas or if labor has become too costly but if Disney Parks doesn’t change the level of service they provide people will stop paying to go there. Unfortunately the magic Walt envisioned is at stake and needs to be nurtured not contracted out to save a couple bucks. The old saying “you get what you pay for” is true, if you pay less you get less, especially when it comes to labor, however the park guests are paying MORE and getting LESS.

  2. Shelly Valladolid

    I think what they’re doing is using VISA gift cards, then sending them to the client. This system was built to be abused.

  3. Pat

    Wouldn’t this problem be solved by checking ID to make sure that the name of the person on the reservation is the same as the name of the person who shows up to dine?

  4. Sandra

    This is part of the reason we gave up table service dining in favor of quick service meals most of the time. I simply don’t want to be stressing over getting a reservation or being tied to a fixed time six months in advance when we may not want a huge meal that day. My husband and I ate at Le Cellier on previous trips without a reservation; couldn’t do that now. I don’t see why it has to be so difficult; have some on-call staff or find some other solution so we don’t have to spend hours trying to find a place to take our money at mealtime. I would never pay a “service” to acquire a reservation. I’d eat off site before I’d do that.

  5. John

    We come over once or twice a year from the UK and love the dinning experience but hate the fact that every single day of our stay is planned, they is not a single day we do not know what we’re doing in advance, I personally hate this as it means I can not wake up in the morning and say to my family, guys it’s a beautiful day lets go here or let’s go there, no a lot of this is down to us having to pre book our dinning, I can’t say to my family let’s spend the day and night at Magic Kingdom and get a table meal while we are there without having that table service pre booked which means I know I am going to the Magic kingdom that day, same with Epcot, same with Hollywood studios the only one that’s not is animal kingdom as it currently closes early but that’s going to change with the planned events there, so if we’re not eating at a park were eating else where but still I have to pre book, we have tried the walk up at the restaurants and either told it’s fully booked or there is a two hour wait. Love the dinning plan but hate this means no spontaneous days. Perhaps a way round it is no pre booked reservations allowed but then it could mean half full restaurants with too many staff.

    1. Jen

      But you CAN do this. There are plenty of gem table service locations that always have availability (unless it’s Thanksgiving Day.)

  6. Lee

    I understand that people may want to make one reservation ahead of time however numerous reservations is beyond me? I don’t know where I want to eat tomorrow much less next year. And sometimes you can choose your meal early as well. What. The. Heck. Who does this? And the fact that people would pay scalper fees for it seems unrealistic. I miss the days where I could make my reservation same day or even make the poor choice of walking up to the hostess stand when I was ready to eat and being given a wicked long wait time. All of Disney’s new conveyor belt fast pass systems seem stressful to me though. I want to enjoy my vacation, not have every second planned out before I arrive.
    Lee

  7. Ray

    Disney created this monster when they kept promoting the Dining Plans (that are seldom a value) and Free Dining (only a value when staying at a Value Resort) pushing a humongous number of guests who would never have bothered to make an ADR for a sit-down restaurant into making ADR’s. Of course this is about revenue…but not how this article infers. It’s not about restaurant revenue….it’s about that most people that use the Dining Plans and Free Dining don’t get their money’s worth or value. Believe me, and I’ve said this when Disney announced the dining plans, that Disney wouldn’t have created these unless they thought that they’d make money of people with them. Yes….the dining system needs to be fixed, but the first and easiest way would be to admit that the Dining Plan is a mistake and to junk it.

    1. Bev

      I live within an hour of WDW and have annual pass, along with several family members. We drive over frequently, but we also stay at the resorts 2-4 nights, 2-3 times a year. We love the dining plan. A 2-night stay worth of dining (2 days) will feed us for 3 days in the parks. We will have one table service “special” meal both days and then we may share a couple of the other quick service meals. It’s easy to share when you get an entree, a drink and a dessert. When we don’t use the dining plan, we bring our own food for most meals, but we will usually do one special meal, although that one may be breakfast, unless we are able to get into one of our favorites.

  8. Ray

    Yeah….probably not. If this gets enough press Disney could fix this the way they fixed the disability access issue. We have all seen that there are no ADR’s available (in the system) and seen lots of empty tables. Obviously the $10/person penalty for a no-show isn’t working. The penalty needs to be increased or….here’s an idea….how about when you make an ADR Disney is going to charge you a fee per head up front and you’ll have this charge applied to your meal charge when you show up. So, say you’re a party of 4, Disney charges you $15/person up front, so that comes to $60. If your party’s bill is $120 you owe $60 plus tax and tip (applied to total charge).

    1. Maria Barnes

      I agree that touch planning spoils the spontaneity. We fortunately have always just gone quick service booking odd dining experiences. The last time we were there was prior fast pass plus so you could sort your fast passes on the day. We would have breakfast and sometimes jump on the first bus that comes to whatever park that may be.
      We are back in December and have been lucky enough to get ADV’s for Chef Mickey’s Brunch and Be our Guest for lunch
      I did secure a couple of extra reservations but cancelled them as hate feeling tied to plans for too many days.
      How many people book realise they don’t plan to go but hang onto reservations until a day or two before in case they decide to go
      I think the system will be blocked with people hanging onto reservations that they ultimately will give up before the cancellation fee kicks in.

  9. Brian

    It’s funny that all these Disney bloggers (who use their sites to make money in one form or another) are upset about this. It’s you that have created this “monster”. You tell everyone they have to do things a certain way and now everyone is doing just that!

    Now you’re upset because someone else has come along and turned your ideas (grab your seating as quickly as possible while supplies last, cause your vacation will suck if you don’t) into a money making scam.

    Don’t cast stones on people who are making money off Disney, you are doing the same. I agree with the previous statement that Disney should be about spontaneity! Enjoy your trip and eat somewhere while on an adventure! Not planning your entire day around breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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  11. Melissa Schaffer

    I hate planing everything ! I like a rough idea but it is very stressful with kids to have to plan and get to every meal ,and what sounds good at 180 day may not sound good when you are actually in the moment ,we also just to QS when we go with the kids ,and my husband and I are not doing DDP when we go by ourself ,we will eat a lot at S&D seems they always have tables and great food

  12. Sharon

    It is a problem but we do it! When, at 180 days out, I couldn’t get a reservation, I kept checking for them daily. About a month before the trip, out of desperation, I did pay $10 to a service to find me a reservation. It did, I made the reservation, I was happy. When I’m spending thousands of dollars on a trip that we can only take every 5 to 7 years or so, I was willing to pay $10 to get that chance to dine where I wanted. Would I do it often? No. Do I feel bad for doing it that way? No. I only make one reservation per restaurant at only a few table service restaurants per trip, not like some who make several so they can pick which one goes with their schedule. Does something need to be done? Probably, but its been proven that people will do whatever it takes for a piece of the Disney magic.

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  14. jdgalt

    I see nothing unscrupulous about scalpers. They perform the useful service of doing your waiting in line for a fee, and they take the risk of not being able to resell what they’ve bought; why shouldn’t they get paid?

    Customers inconvenienced by this mess should at least complain more to Disney. And maybe go somewhere else to eat.

  15. Tim

    Here’s how Disney can fix this… change the system so you can only book a reservation 24 hours in advance.

  16. Michelle

    I have to say I love pre-booking and pre-planning. I want to know before I arrive that I am guaranteed to be able to experience the list of things I want to experience. The last thing I want to do is waste time walking up to a restaurant just to be turned away because there is a 2 hour wait. An advance reservation system is meant to minimize time wasted during the vacation and maximize the things one gets to do. It doesn’t make any sense to complain about being given the option to book ahead, because it is not mandatory to be a guest at WDW. If one can’t be bothered to spend the little bit of effort to book ahead and be tied down by the resos, then don’t go to the popular restaurants, it’s that simple. The fact is that there simply is not enough space for every single person who wants to try the popular locations and if there wasn’t an advanced booking system, then it becomes a battle of who is willing to waste the most time out of their vacation to line up for a table, which is many times worse than a pre-booking system. It seems to me the author has an unreasonable complaint that Disney is managing to fulfill its duty to its shareholders by successfully increasing the number of guests interested in sit-down restaurants and is considering that to be a “problem” that should be “fixed”.

    1. Disney Mike

      I completely agree. Having the dining reservations in advance takes the stress out of my vacation. No more wandering around the World Showcase, trying to find a restaurant with available seating. No more hoping we don’t miss the fireworks because we had to wait 90 minutes just to be seated for dinner.

      I don’t buy the argument that making reservations takes the spontaneity out of your day. You’re free to do absolutely anything you want all day — you just need to be in the park where your dining reservation is near the time of the reservation. We’ve had days in which we’ve gone to the Kennedy Space Center, then come back to DHS by 7:00 p.m. for a dining reservation. We didn’t plan to do it that way; it just happened because that’s what we wanted to do that morning.

  17. David Pinto

    Why are scalpers unscrupulous? They are providing a valuable service, otherwise people would not pay them. If scalpers are making money off your product, then your product is not priced correctly.

  18. Robert Underly

    We are annual passholders and live about 30 miles from Walt Disney World. We used to go to Disney at the spur of the moment just to ride a few rides and maybe have dinner. But for the last few years with the dining reservations and dining plans at Disney, we have been unable to eat at any of the sitdown restaurants. Last year we visited in August and since Epcot wasn’t very busy we thought we could find a sitdown restaurant for dinner. We stopped at China because we could see that many tables were empty. When I went to the receptionist to see if we could get a table I was told “no reservation no eat”. I said, well there seems to be a lot of empty tables here and she repeated to me “no reservation no eat”. Now we don’t bother trying to eat at Disney we eat at home before we leave or we eat at a restaurant outside of Disney.

  19. Disney Mike

    We love making dining reservations. As I said in a reply to a comment here, it really takes the stress out of trying to find someplace to eat when we have a reservation for a meal each day. We’ll only do one table-service meal per day, so it’s nice to know we don’t have to worry about where it will be or if we’ll be able to get a table somewhere.

    Our family has turned “dining reservations day” into an exciting thing. Everyone in the family reviews menus in the days or weeks before our 190-day window opens (we always stay on property), and each person gets to request one or two restaurants. On the day reservations open for us, we all get up early and sit around the kitchen table. We’ll start with the first day of the trip and decide where we want to eat that day, then book a reservation. We do the same for each day of the trip. We have a nice breakfast while doing this, and everyone in the family is really excited about it.

    Yes, the system isn’t fair to first-time Disney visitors; if you don’t know what you’re doing, the system doesn’t really make much sense. I imagine that the system is a nightmare for locals, but locals aren’t Disney’s target audience. For everyone else, I’d recommend either using the system the way it is, or just opting for counter-service meals, because whining about it only makes for a miserable time. Yes, I miss the days when you could walk around the World Showcase and pick a restaurant on a whim, but we got over it. You have to make hotel reservations and airline reservations, so making dining reservations should be a snap.

  20. Barbara

    Many years ago, my family would look at each other each andevery day with “Where do you want to eat” followed by, “I don’tt know, where do YOU want to eat?” This took far too much time….and then we would get to the restaurant we picked to find out there was a 90 minute (or more) wait. So now, we sit and decide where we want to eat….180 days beforehand. We have a grid…which park on which day…what restaurant we want or breakfast and dinner (no lunch needed)….we plan and we can then relax and know that we get to eat…when we want to eat…where we want to eat without the hassles. Maybe that is because we have been to Disney over 15 times since they opened in the early 70’s so we know the routine and layout. A vacation needs to be hassle-free and having these reservations really makes it that way. The dining plan is really a great value for us….we have tried it both ways (with kids and now without) and spent far more without the dining plan. Our bill at Le Cellier would have been over $100 for just 2 of us now…for one meal!!!!!! So, we get one sit down a day…one counter a day …..and we pay for another sit-down if we want it…yes, we have reservations for breakfast meals which we like sit-down and it is nice way to start the day.

  21. Matt

    I just got back from WDW 3 days ago. This was my first trip there in a few years, and the first one where I’ve taken advantage of the dining plan, with the Free Dining offer from earlier in the year. I have to say, though, while it was wonderful to have all these different dining experiences we’d typically never have the opportunity to try, having to plan so far in advance takes all the spontaneity out of the trip. In fact, it’s SO difficult to even make minor modifications to existing reservations. I tried to add ONE person to a reservation we had for a friend’s birthday, and all I could do was call WDW-DINE. They had no more access to anything than I did. All she could do was look for a NEW reservation. She wasn’t even allowed to give me the direct phone number for the restaurant, so I could work with them. It was NOT a very magical experience. Add in the newish Fast Pass + system, which wasn’t there the last time I’d visited, and suddenly you’re entire vacation is scheduled with almost no room to bend. We were there for 9 days, and felt rushed the entire time, chasing Fast Passes and running to restaurants. Luckily, being early Sept., lines weren’t long. So, towards the end of the trip, we were able to change Fast Passes or ignore them altogether. But, what Disney has done is take a lot of the fun out of the vacations by forcing everyone into pre-planned little schedules. It’s a shame.

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