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Disney Food for Families: A Parent’s Dilemma — Multi-Line Quick Service

Disney Food for Families columnist Erin Foster ponders how to avoid lost kids and cold food at the multi-line quick service locations like Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and Sunshine Seasons.

While I am obviously a fan of Disney dining in general, there is one particular aspect of eating at Walt Disney World that, as a parent, I find maddening: the multi-line quick service restaurant.

For those of you new to eating at WDW, some of the quick service (otherwise known as counter service) restaurants are set up with one order/payment line for all types of food items served there. The out-of-Disney-World analogy to this would be McDonald’s or similar fast food restaurants where you walk up to the cashier and tell him you want a burger, your husband wants chicken, and your daughter wants a salad. You pay and they give you all your food on one tray. Makes sense, right?

Epcot's Electric Umbrella. Single-line quick service. Many foods, one place to order.

However, many quick service restaurants on Disney property do not follow this model. Instead of one place to order all the items sold at that location, there are multiple lines. One line to order burgers, one line to order chicken, one line to order salads, and so on. The out-of-Disney-World analogy to this is the mall food court.

Multi-line, food-court-style, quick service restaurant.

So, Here’s the Problem

The multi-line quick service restaurant became my personal pet peeve way back in 1998, during our first trip to WDW with our oldest daughter, who was not quite two years old at the time. We were staying at Dixie Landings (now known as Port Orleans Riverside).

It is time for lunch. We go to the restaurant at the hotel to eat and find it has multi-line ordering. I want chicken, hubby wants a burger — two separate lines. How do we conquer this?

Option #1: I take the baby, look for a table, hunt down a high chair, maneuver the stroller and the high chair into a good location, and sit down. Hubby goes to line one and orders, waits for the food. He then carries the tray to line two and orders, holding the first tray of rapidly cooling food. He then brings both trays to us at the table.

The entire food procurement process takes twice as long as it should because hubby has effectively had to go through the entire process twice.

Option #2: I get in line one to order one type of food. Hubby takes the (hungry/fussy) baby in the stroller into line two to order the second type of food. I’m fine, but he is now simultaneously balancing a tray, entertaining a child, and pushing a stroller. Then we have to look for a high chair and table.

Option #3: I take the baby, get the table, etc. In order for hubby to only have to wait in one line, to save time, and not have food get cold, one of us has to compromise and not get what we really want to get. This is an inelegant, but somewhat workable solution for adults willing and able to take one for the team. But when picky eater children are in the mix, all bets on food compromise are off.

Clearly, for a family with divergent food interests, this multi-line quick service model simply doesn’t work. And don’t even get me started about what happens when you’re in this type of situation in a crowded theme park, or when you’re a single adult with children, or when you’re a family with three mobile preschoolers who will only eat three different types of food.

There are five different service lines at Epcot's Sunshine Seasons

Now that my three daughters are all in their tweens or teens, you’d think this problem would go away. I can trust them to step a bit away from me and complete a simple sales transaction. However, there are still challenges. Often our family splits into subgroups for lunch leaving three of us together.

If we’re at a three-pronged multi-service line and the three of us all want different food, then we get into three separate lines to order/pay. Sounds fine — except that we then have to locate each other (in some cases more than 50 very crowded feet away), and then we still have to find a table. In a huge restaurant like the Magic Kingdom’s Cosmic Ray’s or Epcot’s Sunshine Seasons, there’s a real issue of losing track of your family members — even a responsible teen.

One of three different ordering bays at Cosmic Ray's

A much easier quick service situation for a family is the single-line restaurant. An example of this is Epcot’s Electric Umbrella. They offer burgers, chicken, and salad, all from one service area. Here, I take the baby and find a table. Hubby goes and orders everyone the food they actually want, gets one tray of hot food, and brings it to us at the table. Perfect.

Knowing is Half the Battle

So where are these beastly multi-line restaurants located? The short answer is practically everywhere. All the value and moderate resort food courts are set up like this. The smaller deluxe resort quick service restaurants even have some elements of this, though they are a bit more manageable.

In the Magic Kingdom, the biggest offender is Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. At Epcot it’s Sunshine Seasons in Future World. At the Animal Kingdom, the egg roll shack and the corn dog shack are visible to each other, but across a wide, congested walkway.

And at Disney’s Hollywood Studios you have my least favorite situation of all: the Sunset Ranch Market food huts. These are a series of five different stand-alone structures in one area, each offering a different type of food. There are no clear sight lines to the registers of these venues. And the seating areas are in somewhat hidden clusters — really a nightmare when you’re trying to keep tabs on your family members.

Hollywood Studios: Sunset Boulevard row of quick serve stands

Solutions?

My family’s solution to this issue has simply been to avoid these restaurants as much as possible. I’ll go there if I’m traveling solo or with just my hubby, but when the children are with us, we tend to choose the single-line venues (our favorite is the Magic Kingdom’s Columbia Harbor House) because it greatly simplifies our dining experience.

What do you think folks? Am I being overly neurotic? Does your family have a creative way of dealing this? Any suggestions or solutions, let me know in the comments. Please.

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32 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My biggest pet peeve with counter service is having to deal with the multi line scenario. We, as a family, avoid it entirely, which is unfortunate because we do like cosmic rays and sunshine seasons. It’s just too stressful to get lunch there.

  2. Lisa says:

    No, you are not being neurotic! We’ve had the same experience. We avoid Cosmic Rays for this reason. Generally, we’ll eat a Pecos Bills or Columbia Harbor House. We’ve even gone so far as to eat at separate restaurants to satisfy our picky eaters! Hubby gets burgers with our son and I take our chicken finger princess to Columbia HH!

  3. Amy says:

    I definitely see where you’re coming from, but really have no complaints about the multiple-line counter service spots. But, I also have no kids to juggle and my bf and I have no problems about starting to eat while the other waits a few extra minutes for food if that’s the case :) I think your idea of avoiding them all together is probably your best bet if you want to wait until everyone has their food to start eating. Or visit WDW during slower times when long lines might be more of a non issue.

  4. Joy says:

    I absolutely agree and we just avoid these restaurants-except for Sunshine Seasons where we all like the grilled chicekn. But even there,someone has to go back for the drinks. its a very inefficient way to sell food-just avoid the places that sell food this way because even with older kids,its a pain to lose track of each other

  5. Greg says:

    Thank you for this article!

    We found QS a nightmare on our last trip with an almost-5-year-old and an almost-1-year-old. But Cosmic Ray’s was by far the worst! It was hard enough wrangling trays of food, young kids and a double stroller (plus all the other stuff you carry with you around the parks) through one line. But having to go through multiple lines was maddening.

    Add to that the fact that there never seemed to be an open table if we ate close to regular meal times. I came to really dread counter service meals that trip.

  6. Alan says:

    This seems like a problem that could be solved with computerized ordering. Have computer stations that will let us order from various cooking counters, have the computers vary the order times to account for the different prep times for different foods and have them all ready at the same time to be picked up hot. Get the imagineers working on this Mr. Iger.

  7. I agree this is a nigtmare, even without small children. With children (the majority of Disney’s theme park guests) this problem is huge. I think they need to look at this and address the proble. It may work for them kitchen line wise (so they can offer more food and keep it organized and efficient, different manager for each station) but it is not working for the guests. They need to combine the kitchen organizxation with a central ordering station. Great article.

  8. Liz says:

    Last year my family, with a 18 month and a 4 yr old, were staying off site, so we only ate at a QS once. We were also directed to the Hollywood Studios area mentioned in the article, but we quickly realized it was going to be a huge hassel and left (went to McDonalds in fact). Both experiences were the two negative experiences we had the entire week.

    This year when booking our stay, we decided to stay onsite and use the dining plan. Our experience about these places were so bad, we decided to splurge on the deluxe plan just so at no point in time will we be requried to eat at one of these places.

  9. Erin says:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. I always thought it was just me that was frustrated by this issue.

    I’ve had many people tell me that they don’t like to eat at table service restaurants with small children because the kids have trouble sitting still. But I always much preferred table service when my kids were small because everyone is in one place.

  10. Lori says:

    I certainly agree. We love Cosmic Ray’s but it’s also a nightmare. Trying to juggle everything with two kids, a stroller, and generally no available tables…ugh. I wish they could combine everything there, even if it meant cutting out a few food options.

  11. Erin says:

    Also, I should say that my problem with these places has nothing to do with the food. If I’m on my own, I very much enjoy the Cosmic Ray’s burgers and I’m happy to eat almost everything at Sunshine Seasons. It’s just the traffic flow with a family that I find challenging.

  12. Sandra says:

    We eat mostly CS on our annual WDW trips and also find this set-up less than ideal. Especially since my husband began using an ECV, I have to be the sole food runner, although my son is now old enough to help carry. We try to avoid the busiest times anyway, and that has helped at SS particularly. Our resort food court can be a real nightmare, so I often find out what the guys want and then choose something from that line for myself as I am not particularly fussy about most meals. Still sometimes I make two or more trips to get everyone’s food.

    I understand Disney is experimenting with touch screen ordering, which we use all the time at our regional gas station/food places like Sheetz and WaWa. This would be a really good way for one person to order their group’s food, especially if you have a pretty straight-forward order and are using DP or KTTW to pay. They could still have live CMs to assist or take the orders the regular way, particularly for folks who are paying cash.

  13. Amy says:

    Erin, thank you so much for writing this! I have to tell you that on our last trip we stayed at PO – Riverside and found the food court there (although tasty) to be a nightmare. We were even there the last week in January (not a busy time!). My 6 year old daughter got “lost” in the hustle and bustle, I tried to balance food for us both while my hubby was taking care of himself and our son, and by the time we sat down we all felt like we had already spent a day in the parks! ;) I have to say that your advice to families with young children about avoiding these stops is a good one. I do love the variety of selections, but who can eat after all that stress??

  14. John B says:

    This is always hard even with all adults, never mind adding kids to the mix! My friends/family and I always get lost, esp at Cosmic Rays. You would think they would have a better system.

  15. Sometimes when this happens what we do is go and look at the menu and after the first person has decided they go back and find a table while the others pick up the meals, including the meal of the person that has gone for a table.

  16. melissa sue says:

    I don’t think you’re being neurotic at all! We are a childless (for now) couple, and I really hate to separate from my husband in these types of places. It’s too confusing and there’s too much of a risk of losing each other.

    Also, in response to Alan’s suggestion, they already have this at the Contempo Cafe (in the Contemporary Resort), and it does work quite well. Although I do wish there was more room around the ordering kiosks. It sometimes seems like people pile up in front of and around them.

  17. Shayne says:

    I agree completely, Erin! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dropped a tray full of food at Roaring Forks in the Wilderness Lodge while trying to shepherd two children through the array of lines, not just for food, but drinks and then desserts. UGH! Our solution is also to avoid the multi-line CS locations also — just too much of a hassle!

  18. Galloping Gourmand says:

    It’s a very very bad idea for food service, and I’m not sure why the stick with it other than maybe it works with the way they prepare food.

  19. Heather Sievers says:

    Ummm, this is crazy chaos. You know in Anaheim they don’t do it like this. At our walk up restaurants all of the lines serve all of the meals. Bizarre.

  20. Erin says:

    I think I’m the only person that likes it! I haven’t experienced it with kids though so I’m sure that’s a completely different ballgame. I’m always just with one other adult and depending on what we want to eat we’ll end up in the same line or in a different line and just pick a spot to meet up once we’re all checked out, usually at the condiment bar. I find that it moves much faster than the single lines and they can also serve a larger number of people this way so it helps them out. I also find it fun and make a little game out of the various menus and picking what we want to eat. Sorry to hear so many of you have troubles with it and hopefully can find good solutions to them!

  21. Roger says:

    When I read the title of this blog, I knew exactly which QSRs were being discussed. I’m sure that problem could be fixed with a refurb or even overnight with signage changes. Like Heather mentioned in her post, there isn’t a problem with that at Disneyland Resort.

  22. Lynnette says:

    What kind of hooey is this? Thankful that at Disneyland I can order every meal off the menu from every restaurant and not have to be separated from my family. This is truly ridiculous.

  23. Diane says:

    Wow; I never realized anyone else ever thought about how maddening this is. Thanks for the article. I can’t even stand the experience of eating at a nice buffet (like, say, Boma) simply because I hate the experience of never being at the table together. Someone’s always popping up to get their next course. It’s just not relaxing. My one tip would be that if you really want or need to eat at a crazy-busy CS, like Cosmic Ray’s or even Pecos Bill’s, don’t get in line right away. Take a few moments to case the joint and see where everything is, then pick a meeting place for if you get separated, as mentioned above. You’ll relieve some of the stress if you check out how the place is laid out and get familiar with it BEFORE you’re carrying overloaded trays and desperately searching for an open table!

  24. Lisa Fine says:

    I also find it frustrating that when I’m with other people (and as of now only travel to Disney with my sister, so no kids with us), one person’s meal will be ready much faster than the other in most cases, so one person is waiting around for a long time.

    Since we’ll never know which food items take less time to prepare, inevitably one person is waiting for a long time for the other person’s food to be ready. This happened often last year at our stay at Carribean Beach Resort.

  25. Josh says:

    I totally agree with you Erin, there really is little room to get creative when you have picky eaters in the family as they would each have to be in their own line. In the lucky case where you can, I would always go with compromise and you could just deal with a kids by offering them candy or something good later.

    Also, Cosmic Rays is the definition of crowded at peak hours! ;)

  26. michelle says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you on this!!! We usuallyend up going
    with your option #3 – and I am always the one compromising!

  27. Tracy says:

    What we did several times on our last trip is just take turns getting in line. I.e. I sit down with my daughter (who was 2 on the last trip) while Daddy gets what he wants (and something for her) and I appease her with crackers or a toy. When Daddy comes back I get in line for my meal. It takes longer, but sometimes it was the only way we both could get something to eat. Plus, my daughter takes longer than most to eat, so it worked out that we weren’t rushing her to finish anyway. However, I do agree that it is frustrating and can cause issues for families.

  28. Pat says:

    I would suggest that all who have written here would send a quick email
    to Disney. Hopefully this problem would be resolved.
    I won’t eat at quick service because of the cahos.

  29. Jen says:

    I don’t mind it but then again I can only speak for my BF and I and my parents who visit every year. It is much easier with all adults and we find a table and then everyone but me usually goes up for the food they want (plus mine from my choice of where they are eating). I figure being in Disney for 12-14 days I can compromise my fries one day if everyone else prefers salads and wraps :)

  30. Alana says:

    Love this article!
    My solution (w/school aged kids, anyway): “Food Partners”
    My husband and I have only two kids, ages 10 & 5, so each parent takes one kid through the whole ordering process with them. Then we’ll meet up at a table. My husband is finicky, so he always takes our picky eater because their tastes are similar. We do “food partners” anytime we are in an overwhelming situation, because it’s easier than waiting in multiple lines, balancing four meals, remembering everyone’s order etc. The kids love it, and it’s saved the day many times.

  31. Danny says:

    There are a couple of food court style places in Disneyland. Rancho Del Zocalo is one. I consider the Pacific Wharf area of DCA to be another, although technically they are separate locations sharing a dining area. Hollywood and Dine was another before it closed down.

  32. Joanne says:

    Honestly, I was so glad to read this article and know I’m not alone in my complaints… here we sit two years or more later and it’s still the same problem! My husband and I travel to Disney frequently with our three young children and most QS dining options are a nightmare for us!! Trying to get the stroller and all our “stuff” through the restaurants is hard enough but add to that the fact that we need to split up (or wait endlessly for my hubby to stand in up to what could be 5 lines) and it’s just the worst. I can’t tell you how many days I just elected not to eat to save a bit of work for us. They really need to work on this problem though, Disney is not the happiest place on Earth when you have to deal with this at least once a day. We try to avoid it whenever possible, but we can’t seem to avoid it altogether.

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