Every Disney World expert knows that in order to get that precise reservation you want, at the precise time, you need to make those dining reservations as early as possible. But what if you didn’t? There are many good reasons to book dining on the spur of the moment, knowing that you’ll need to be more flexible about where and when you eat. I’ve been looking at reservations in May that can be found on less than a week’s notice, and there’s a lot more at hand than you might think.
How do I know what’s out there?
Every morning I look for reservations during Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. I search the current day and the next 6 days, to see what’s available in the next week. These searches (21 per day) give me a moving window of dates, so that after several days I’ll have searched a single date multiple times. For any specific reservation date, I’ll end up searching that date about 7 times.
Once I have enough days of data, I generate an availability score for each restaurant. For each date in my window, I calculate the hit rate — the number of times I found a reservation on that date divided by the number of times I searched for one. The restaurant’s total score is the average hit rate over all the dates in the window. The example below shows the calculation for a four-day search.
A score of 60% does not mean that a restaurant always has 60% of its tables empty and ready for you to book. Instead, it means that you will see that restaurant 60% of the time if you are searching for a reservation. For a more detailed description of the search flow and calculations, see this post which covers what I saw for breakfast. Today I’ll be focusing on lunch and dinner, and I’m using reservation dates from May 14 through May 20.
How much is out there?
This might be a controversial call, but I took Oga’s Cantina off the list. Mom says if there’s no vegetable content then it’s not a meal. Without Oga there are currently 65 restaurants serving dinner, and 50 of them are also serving lunch. Focusing on restaurants with scores higher than 50% shows that about 35%-40% of restaurants have solid availability at each of those meals. Only a handful of restaurants never appeared in any search results.
Comparing availability for lunch and dinner at the same restaurant, we see a pretty good correlation. There are a few restaurants that showed more availability for lunch or dinner than vice versa. The range of hit rates that were averaged into each individual score was pretty wide in some places (average confidence interval about ±15% for you nerdy types out there), but there were a few restaurants where the difference was significant.
In some cases the differences are caused by restaurants serving different meals on different days of the week, such as restaurants serving brunch on weekends instead of breakfast or lunch. As an extreme example, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill only serves lunch on Fridays. It’s not surprising that this would make lunch harder to come by. In other cases, restaurants such as Whispering Canyon Cafe serve differently priced menus for lunch and dinner; here the difference might represent diners voting with their wallets.
Is it only places you don’t want to eat?
Not at all! I compared availability with satisfaction, using only post-reopening surveys. I don’t see any way to draw a meaningful trend line through the dots below, and my software didn’t either.
It’s true that the highest availability score for dinner went to Paradiso 37, which had a 53% satisfaction rating – ugh! – from survey responders. But on the flip side, The Wave… of American Flavors had 100% availability for lunch and a solid thumbs up at 93% satisfaction. The chart below shows the trend of satisfaction ratings as availability decreases. There are plenty of highly-rated options.
Enough pictures, just give me some picks!
OK, I hear you! You don’t want to be bombarded with analysis, you just want to know where to find good food. You can get a reservation at Planet Hollywood practically any time, but do you really want to eat there? The selections below have a minimum satisfaction rating of 80%, and represent some of the top availability scores in their groups.
In the parks
Pickings in the parks are pretty slim, so slim that I ran the list all the way down to 22%. Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom tops the list and was top notch with our review team, but your best bets are in EPCOT. With the exception of Chefs de France, these theme park picks are more expensive than what we found elsewhere.
At the Resorts
One trend that we see in our resort picks is restaurants with different offerings for lunch and dinner, so if you’re trying to decide when to go you might want to consult the menus first. The Wave… of American Flavors is closing July 15 for an extended refurbishment and may come back with a different menu when it reopens.
At Disney Springs
Among restaurants at Disney Springs picks are a pair of longtime residents dating back to the days of Downtown Disney. Raglan Road in particular is a perennial favorite that our team reviewed a few months ago; they were there for brunch but many of the dishes they tried are on the Lunch and Dinner menu as well. Jaleo is a personal favorite of mine, I always find something new and delicious on the menu there.
The crowd calendar is pretty steady for the rest of May and the first couple of weeks of June. There might be a small squeeze in availability around Memorial Day Weekend, but we expect the restaurants above to be readily available for the next few weeks.
Have you had good success getting dining reservations a week or less out? Do you have a go-to recommendation? Let us know in the comments.