Disney Dining Plan: Will It End Up Costing You More?

The Disney Dining Plan is coming back in 2024, and many vacationers are vocally excited about the return of this once-valuable program. But with the new price increases and coverage decreases, what are the chances that you’ll actually save money with the Dining Plan? Are you more likely to come out ahead, or end up paying Disney more for the same food and drink? Yesterday we looked at some high-level math, but today we’re diving into the details! We’ve pulled every single menu item from every possible dining location at Walt Disney World to tell you just how often you can expect to break even with your Dining Plan credits … and how often Disney will come out ahead.

How Much is a Dining Plan Credit Worth?

In order to figure out the various menu combinations and have something to compare them to, we need to know not just what you’re paying for day of the dining plan per person – we need to know exactly how much each dining credit is worth. And to do that, we’re going to make two quick assumptions up-front:

1. Snacks are worth an average of \$6
2. The refillable mug is treated as a free throw-in

Both of these assumptions could be a little shaky – maybe you like expensive snacks, or maybe you just go healthy with a piece of fruit every time. And technically a refillable mug is worth \$21.99. But you could use it 40 times a day (and probably be miserable), or you could use it not at all. And that throws off our math. So we’re calling it a nice freebie.

With those two assumptions, we can use some middle school algebra to figure out the value of an adult Quick Service dining credit and an adult Table Service credit.

You can grade your own answers, because here is the answer key: a Quick Service credit is worth \$25.50 (but we’ll call it \$25 to be nice), and that means a Table Service credit is worth \$63.

Those values tell us exactly how much our menu combinations need to cost in order to break even or save us money when using a dining plan credit!

What’s Included in a Credit?

A Quick Service credit only includes a drink and an entrée. So those will be easy math – we can just pick beverages and combine them with entrees.

A Table Service credit is a little more tricky – because with those you get a drink and an entrée and a dessert. Or sometimes just a buffet or prix fixe meal.

That all means if I’m going to figure out how many meals will save you money on the Disney Dining plan, I need to know some average beverage and dessert costs! That’s what we’ll calculate next.

Average Beverage and Dessert Costs

Quick Service Beverage Cost

After going through every beverage available at every quick service location on the Disney Dining Plan, here are the average costs, by beverage type:

• Cocktail = \$13.00 (need a \$12 entrée to break even)
• Wine = \$11.00 (need a \$14 entrée to break even)
• Beer = \$9.50 (need a \$15.50 entrée to break even)
• Specialty Beverage = \$4.50 (need a \$20.50 entrée to break even)
• Soda = \$4.50 (need a \$20.50 entrée to break even)
• Water = Free! (need a \$25 entrée to break even)

Table Service Dessert Cost

When averaging the cost of every possible ala carte dessert at Table Service locations on the Disney Dining Plan, the average cost is \$10.50. So for Table Service credits that aren’t prix fixe or buffets, we’ll take this into consideration.

Table Service Beverage Cost

After going through every beverage available at every quick service location on the Disney Dining Plan, here are the average costs, by beverage type:

• Cocktail = \$15.50 (need a \$37 entrée or \$47.50 prix fixe to break even)
• Wine = \$14.50 (need a \$38 entrée or \$48.50 prix fixe to break even)
• Beer = \$9.50 (need a \$44 entrée or \$54.50 prix fixe to break even)
• Specialty Beverage = \$7.00 (need a \$45.50 entrée or \$56 prix fixe to break even)
• Soda = \$4.50 (need a \$48 entrée or \$58.50 prix fixe to break even)
• Water = Free! (need a \$52.50 entrée or \$63 prix fixe to break even)

How Often Will You Save Money on Quick Service with the Disney Dining Plan?

Now that we have our “win conditions”, we can see how often we’ll win the Dining Plan game vs how often Disney will come out ahead!

Quick Service Breakfast

• If you manage to find a quick-service breakfast cocktail with your meal, 51 out of 258 potential breakfast entrees will let you break even. That’s a 20% chance of saving money.
• If you’re fancy and prefer wine with your breakfast, only three quick service breakfast entrees will be expensive enough to save you money by using a dining credit. That’s a 1% chance of saving money.
• Let’s say you’re someone who enjoys breakfast beer. Who am I to judge? In that case, two entrees are expensive enough for you. That’s a 1% chance of saving money.
• If you’d like a breakfast specialty beverage (like a coffee or juice or milk) or soda, 1 lonely breakfast entrée can earn you money on the dining plan. That’s rounded to a 0% chance of saving money.
• And if you’d just like some tap water with your breakfast, there are no quick service breakfast entrees worth \$25 that will allow you to break even. Once again, a 0% chance of saving money.

Quick Service Lunch or Dinner

• If you enjoy a quick-service cocktail with your lunch or dinner, 612 out of 1311 potential lunch or dinner entrees will let you break even by using a dining plan credit. That’s not too bad! It’s a 47% chance of saving money.
• But things start to go downhill if you order wine instead, when only 242 quick service lunch or dinner entrees will be expensive enough to save you money by using a dining credit. That’s an 18% chance of saving money.
• Maybe you think you’d rather drink a beer. In that scenario, 122 entrees are expensive enough for you. That’s a 9% chance of saving money.
• If you’d like a specialty beverage (like a coffee or juice or milk) or soda with your lunch or dinner, only 7 lunch and dinner quick service entrees across all of Walt Disney World can earn you money on the dining plan. That’s a 1% chance of saving money.
• And if you’d just like some tap water with your meal, to hydrate in the middle of a hot park day, there are 5 quick service lunch or dinner entrees worth the \$25 that will allow you to break even. That rounds back down to a 0% chance of saving money.

How Often Will You Save Money on Table Service with the Disney Dining Plan?

Things get a little trickier with table service credits. First, we’re going to just go ahead and say upfront that no two-credit meals are ever “worth it”. You’re not going to spend \$126 on a single drink/entrée/dessert combo, even at the fanciest restaurants on the dining plan.

Next, in each of these scenarios, trust that I’m counting prix fixe options, buffets, and entrée/dessert combos in the numerator and the denominator, and I’ll just call them meal choices.

Table Service Breakfast

• If you enjoy a lovely table-service breakfast cocktail with your meal, 3 out of 310 potential breakfast meal options will let you break even. That’s a 1% chance of saving money. Out of the gate with 1% success. Don’t do table service breakfast on the dining plan please.
• If you’re fancy and prefer wine with your breakfast, those same three table service breakfast meal options will still be expensive enough to save you money by using a dining credit. That’s a 1% chance of saving money.
• If you “downgrade” to breakfast beer, two meal options are expensive enough for you. That’s a 1% chance of saving money.
• If you’d like a breakfast specialty beverage (like a coffee or juice or milk) or soda, 1 lonely table service meal options can earn you money on the dining plan. That’s rounded to a 0% chance of saving money.
• And if you’d just like some tap water with your breakfast, there are no table service meal options worth \$63 that will allow you to break even. Once again, a 0% chance of saving money.

Table Service Lunch or Dinner

So Table Service breakfast is a no-go on the Disney Dining Plan. But maybe

• If you order a table-service cocktail with your lunch or dinner, 124 out of 1596 potential lunch or dinner meal options will let you break even by using a dining plan credit. Not nearly as good as our quick-service numbers It’s a 8% chance of saving money.
• And things get worse from there – if you order wine with your lunch or dinner, then only 109 table service lunch or dinner meal options will be expensive enough to save you money by using a dining credit. That’s a 7% chance of saving money.
• If you’d rather have a beer with your lunch or dinner, 41 meal options are expensive enough for you. That’s a 3% chance of saving money.
• If you’d like a specialty beverage (like a coffee or juice or milk) or soda with your lunch or dinner, only 23 or 17 (respectively) lunch and dinner table service meal options can earn you money on the dining plan. That’s a 1% chance of saving money.
• And, finally, if you’d just like some tap water with your relaxing table service lunch or dinner, there are a whopping 9 meal options worth the \$63 that will allow you to break even. That rounds to a 1% chance of saving money.

Disney Dining Plan Summary

Let’s put all of those numbers in one easy spot to refer to as we draw our conclusions.

1. None of these numbers is ever above 50%. You’ve probably heard the gambling term “the house always wins” – and this is the Disney Dining Plan equivalent. The Mouse House always wins. If you just order randomly off of every menu in Walt Disney World, you will statistically lose money by paying for the Dining Plan instead of paying out of pocket. Can you come out ahead in Vegas? Sure, without too much alcohol, and with a lot of skill. Can you come out ahead in Disney? Sure, with a lot of alcohol, and with a lot of skill.
2. The population that really really can almost never come out ahead are non-drinkers and anyone between the ages of 10 and 20. If your kids are over the age of 9, and you opt to purchase the Dining Plan for your room, they’re only going to be working from the bottom half of this adult credit chart. Where, at best, they’ve got 1% of menu options to choose from if you don’t want to lose money on their plan. If you limit them to only choosing things that save money on the Dining Plan, they have 1 quick-service breakfast and 1 table-service breakfast to choose from for the entire trip. Or 7 quick-service lunch/dinner options and 23 table-service lunch/dinner options. That’s across all parks, resorts, and Disney Springs.
3. If you really really want to use the Dining Plan because you like pre-paying for your food or having that all-inclusive “feel” – the Quick Service Dining Plan is your best option, and you should only be using those credits for lunch and dinner. Plus you should be ordering cocktails at every meal. Then, across property, you’ll be able to select from about half of the available dining options and still make money on your plan.
4. Keep in mind that with the dining plan, you still have to pay gratuity out of pocket at every meal. And you’ll be ordering those expensive drinks and meals, which means higher gratuity than you might otherwise pay without the Dining Plan.
5. One of the advertised benefits of the Dining Plan is getting to eat whatever you want whenever you want and not worrying about the cost. But if you put in the work to select those few dining locations where the odds are in your favor – especially at table service locations – you’ll be competing for reservations with everyone else that thinks the same way you do. That 6 am reservation opening window is going to be very important for you.

Have you priced out the Disney Dining Plan for any of your past or upcoming vacations? Is the convenience worth the potential additional cost? Or do you look to maximize your money while at Disney? Let us know in the comments!

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

8 thoughts on “Disney Dining Plan: Will It End Up Costing You More?”

• Thanks for such a great analysis. The dining plan seems like a tremendous amount of planning with very little chance for savings. Probably a better move to focus on “hacking the system” to purchase discounted Disney gift cards and using those to pay for dining. Too bad the Deluxe Dining Plan is not back. It was easier to extract value from that plan.

Thanks for the great analysis!

Isabel

• Fantastic analysis. I realize you were trying to be positive about how you could save money. But the flipside is you will lose money if you don’t go to those very limited choices. Basically if you want easy but pay more then get the dining plan. I liked your suggestion you put elsewhere about putting that money into gift cards. Then it is prepaid. You can order appetizers and what you want. And pay tip and buy yourself a gift at the end with the leftover.

• I was wondering if this math takes into account any price increases in menus over the coming months. How often does Disney raise menu prices? Would it be worth it to buy a QS dining plan now for a trip planned in summer 2024?

• Unfortunately, I’m not a future-seer regarding price increases. Menu prices do historically increase sometime between October and the end of each calendar year. In October 2022, we saw hundreds of price increases, but almost all of the snack and quick service increases were something like 30 cents per item. At one-credit table service locations, I believe the _biggest_ entree price increase we saw was \$2. We saw bigger price increases at what are now two-credit dining locations.
Even if we see similar price increases again this year (I’m sure prices will increase, but inflation has cooled down, so hopefully they won’t increase by as much), the percentages that are presented in this article wont change significantly.

• I hope everyone that reads this thinking, “Well, I’m just going to eat at restaurants that have the most expensive food and cocktails to maximize the DDP!” reads number 5 on the summary. Even if they do manage to get all the TS restaurants they want, both plans use QS restaurants, and everyone trying to go to those will find long lines and/or chaotic return times for mobile ordering.

• When my daughters were 6 & 4 back in 2008, we did the dining plan. At that point, it included 3 sit down meals.

We did it because the girls were more interested in characters and they couldn’t ride a lot of the big kid rides.

It was a ton of food, but it worked because we did a ton of character meals, and had some nice dinners as well.

But they were kids, so the math worked.

This is the only way I would ever do it. Loading up on character meals with kids. I don’t think it makes sense any other way.