Tipping in Disney Restaurants

Tipping is customary at table service restaurants in the United States. Table service restaurants are those in which you are seated at a table by a host/hostess and a server brings food and/or drinks to you.

Tipping is neither required nor expected at counter service restaurants in the United States. Counter service restaurants are those in which you walk up to a counter or window, place your order, and then find a place to sit on your own. Counter service is also known as quick service or fast food.

Buffet restaurants at Walt Disney World fall into the table service category. While you walk up to the buffet line to select your own food, there is wait staff that will bring you drinks, clear plates, and offer other assistance. These servers should be tipped as you would in any other table service situation.

Tipping practices vary slightly, but general US custom is that tips should be 15-20% of your pretax bill. The suggested tip level at Walt Disney World is 18%. For example, if your pretax restaurant bill were $100, you would leave an $18 tip, or $118 total. Most WDW bills will indicate a recommend tip on the bottom of your receipt. There is occasional controversy about whether 18% is an inappropriately high tip. Recent travel literature suggests that 18% is the new national tipping norm.

Neal Templin wrote in the Wall Street Journal 10/23/2008:
“I usually tip 20% for excellent restaurant service, 15% for solid service and 10% for bad service. I thought I was being generous. Turns out that makes me, at best, an average tipper. Tips have been on the rise for some time. During the 1950s, people commonly tipped 10% of the bill, says Michael Lynn of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. By the 1970s and 1980s, the standard tip had risen to 15% of the tab. Nowadays, people commonly tip 15% to 20%, with the average tip about 18%.”(Tipping Point)

Lisa Cheng and Sherri Eisenberg wrote in Travel & Leisure July 2010: “The new norm of 17–20 percent takes into account the quality of service (courtesy and attentiveness will merit more) and the fact that gratuities make up a hefty portion of a restaurant staff’s income.” (Worldwide Guide to Restaurant Tipping)

In most situations, the guest is free to leave whatever tip they think is appropriate; however, Walt Disney World will automatically add an 18% gratuity to your bill in the following situations:

  • Parties of six or more seated at one table. (Babies and toddlers count in this total, even if they are not eating food served by the restaurant.)
  • Guests using the Tables in Wonderland discount card.
  • Guests dining at certain venues, including:
    • Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness
    • Spirit of Aloha Luau at the Polynesian Resort
    • Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness
    • Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom

When you are presented your bill, there will be still be a line available for adding a gratuity, even though the cost of the tip has already been included in your total amount due. Check carefully to make sure you are not tipping twice. Of course, guest receiving exceptionally good service are always welcome to tip more than 18%.

The cost of gratuities is not included in the Disney Dining Plan. Although you are not paying cash for your meal, you should tip your server as if you were. When you are presented with your bill, there will be an indication of what the cost would have been had you been paying out of pocket. This is the amount upon which you should base your tip. For example, if your meal would have cost $20, you should tip approximately 18%, or $3.60.

In most cases, the Disney Dining Plan allows guests to order any entrée from the menu at no additional charge. For example, a guest dining at lunch at Le Cellier could order the chicken crepe, which retails for about $13, or the New York strip steak, which retails for about $31. Both would cost the guest one Dining Plan table service credit. However, the steak would effectively be more expensive because the guest would base his tip on 18% of the $31 steak ($5.58) rather than on 18% of the $13 chicken ($2.34).

All guests, including Disney Dining Plan users, should factor the cost of tips into their overall dining budget.