Disneyland Resort Restaurant Reservations: What's in a Name

Disney tinkers ceaselessly with its restaurant-reservations policy. Disneyland dining reservations (previously known as Priority Seating) aren't exactly reservations. When you call Disney Dining at 714-781-3463, option 4, your name and essential information are taken, well, as if you were making a reservation. The Disney representative then tells you that you have a dining reservation for the restaurant on the date and time you requested, usually explaining that means you will be seated ahead of walk-ins — that is, those guests without dining reservations. In case you can't figure out how to place a voice call with your fancy smartphone, you can also book reservations online. Also note that as of October 3, 2013, a credit card guarantee is required for all reservations; a $10 per person fee will be charged if you don't show up.

Travelers who have experienced Walt Disney World's Advanced Dining Reservations system will be relieved to discover that Disneyland's dining reservation scheme is far simpler to navigate. Unlike in Orlando, there is no need to hit the phones at 7 a.m. on the 180th day before your Anaheim vacation; except on the busiest days, most restaurants in the parks and hotels offer same-day availability.

Behind the Scenes at Disneyland Resort Dining

Disney restaurants operate on what they call a template system. Instead of scheduling dining reservations for actual tables, reservationists fill time slots. The number of slots available is based on the average observed length of time that guests occupy a table at a particular restaurant, adjusted for seasonality.

Here's a rough example of how it works: Let's say the Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland Park has 38 tables for four and 10 tables for six, and that the average length of time for a family to be seated, order, eat, pay, and depart is 40 minutes. Add 5 minutes to bus the table and set it up for the next guests, and the tables are turning every 45 minutes. The restaurant provides Disneyland Resort Dining (DRD) with a computer template of its capacity, along with the average time the table is occupied. Thus, when DRD makes dining reservation for four people at 6:15 p.m., the system removes one table for four from overall capacity for 45 minutes. The template on the reservationist's computer indicates that the table will not be available for reassignment until 7 p.m. (45 minutes later). And so it goes for all the tables in the restaurant, each being subtracted from overall capacity for 45 minutes, then listed as available again, then assigned to other guests and subtracted again, and so on, throughout the meal period. DRD tries to fill every time slot for every seat in the restaurant, or come as close to filling every slot as possible. No seats — repeat, none — are reserved for walk-ins, though all restaurants accommodate such customers on a space-available basis.

Templates are filled differently depending on the season. During slower times of year, when dining reservations are easier to get, DRD will overbook a restaurant for each time slot, assuming that there will be a lot of no-shows. During busy times of year, when dining reservations are harder to come by, there are very few no-shows, so the restaurant is booked according to its actual capacity.

With dining reservations, your waiting time will almost always be less than 20 minutes during peak hours, and often less than 10 minutes. If you just walk in, especially during busier seasons, expect to wait 40-75 minutes.

Getting Your Act Together

If you want to patronize any of the Disneyland Resort full-service restaurants, especially buffets or character-dining eateries, you should consider dining reservations (call 714-781-3463, option 4, or go onlineup to 60 days in advance). DRD handles dining reservations for both Disney-owned and independent restaurants at the theme parks, Disney hotels, and Downtown Disney. The sole exception is the Rainforest Cafe at Downtown Disney, which maintains its own reservation phone line at 714-772-0413 (online reservations for breakfast and lunch are available through Disney's website).

If you fail to make dining reservations before you leave home, or if you want to make your dining decisions spontaneously, your chances of getting a table at the restaurant of your choice are good. Blue Bayou at Disneyland Park, Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel, and the various character-meal venues are the most likely to sell out. If, however, you visit Disneyland during a very busy time of year, it's to your advantage to make dining reservations.

If you've lined up many seatings, it's a good idea to phone DRD a few days before you arrive to make sure that everything is in order. If you stay at a Disney resort, Guest Services can print out a summary of all your dining reservations. If you have a seating for a theme-park restaurant at a time before park opening, as is sometimes the case for a character breakfast, simply proceed to the turnstiles and inform a cast member, who will admit you to the park.