Short-Notice Reservations: Breakfast Availability in May 2021

Are you into winging it? Do you like to book your dining on short notice, perhaps after you’ve already started your vacation? I took a look into the availability of table service reservations made less than a week in advance for mid-May.  It seems that breakfast is hard to come by, but that might be the result of a lack of breakfast options more than a lack of available reservations.

Collecting the data

Every day for the last week, I searched for reservations in the time periods: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  I searched for the current day and each of the next 6 days; a total of 21 searches per day.  I used parties of 4 in my searches, since my experience is that results are almost always identical for parties of 4 and parties of 2.

These searches give me a moving window of dates, so that after several days I’ll have searched a single specific date multiple times.  Each search of that date will be at a different window of distance from the date.

Did the word date appear in those two sentences too many times to keep straight what I was talking about?  Me too.  Here’s an example:

  • I start on May 9, and the latest date that I search on that day is May 15, 7 days in advance.
  • The next day, May 10, I also search May 15 availability on my way to a final search date of May 16.
  • On May 15, my earliest search date is May 15, and my last search date is May 21.
  • On May 16 I don’t search for reservations on May 15 at all, since that would be a recipe for spectacular failure.

Now I have a complete dataset for May 15.  I’ve searched that date 7 times in total, at each of 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 days in advance.

Choosing the math

To compare restaurants, I need an availability score that indicates how easy it is to get a reservation on short notice.  It should be intuitive, with 100% meaning easy and 0% meaning “needs lightning to strike”. I also want it to handle days that don’t have 7 full searches, because my manual data collection means that I might miss a day here or there.

I could use a score that represents the number of days where I successfully found reservations.  If I’m looking at a span of 7 days, and I find a reservation on 6 of the 7, then my score would be 86%.  But I don’t like that strategy, and here’s why: if I look at a single day, I could search that day 7 times and only find it once, yet my score would be 100%. That gets a top score, but it doesn’t feel easy to reserve. Worse, in the example below the restaurant on the left is clearly easier to book, but both restaurants would have the same score!  That’s a real problem.

Example showing different frequencies of short-notice reservation hits that still generate the same score - this is bad.
Each chart represents the search results for a single restaurant

Instead, I’m going with a score that represents the frequency of hits.  I’ll calculate the success rate (hits over searches) for each day, and then average the success rate across all days.  Calculating the per-day hit rate might seem like an unnecessary extra step, but normalizing this way allows me to smooth out the effects I might see if I don’t have a complete set of 7 searches on every date.

Scoring system results using the frequency of hits
These scores feel like they match up a little better with the overall availability.

Crunching the numbers

For this post, I began searching on May 9 and continued through May 15 (last search date May 21).   Since I only spent a week collecting data, I only have one day with a full set of 7 searches.  Still, the results are consistent enough to use, as long as I cut off the tail dates that don’t have that many searches.  I’m going to calculate using the one-week window from May 12 to May 18.

A small table showing the number of times that each date was searched.
I’ll leave out the dates on the ends; the small number of searches isn’t good for reliable statistics.

The chart below shows the results, with the overall availability score and a breakout for weekday (M-F) vs. weekend.  Although Cape May Cafe is included, it was not open any day in my calculation window except for May 18.  I did see it show up a couple of times in dates after May 18, so the availability is probably higher than it appears here.

A chart showing the availability of short notice reservations for breakfast

The crowd calendar is pretty consistent for the rest of May, so these numbers should match up with what you’ll see in the near future.  Disney has made significant changes to park capacity this week, but it should take a bit of time for resort bookings to catch up. A sudden increase in restaurant capacity could cause a rapid change, but we would expect the result to be more availability and not less.

If you have a party of 6, you might like to know that while I didn’t do the same kind of exhaustive search, I did spot check here and there for 6 people. Often I found most of the same reservations that came back for parties of 4.

Winners and losers

A scatterplot showing short-notice availability vs. satisfaction rating
Satisfaction data is post-reopening.

In all the searches I did, only 10 restaurants appeared with available reservations.  That’s not a lot!  Of course, knowing that there are only 12 restaurants serving breakfast at all does put a bit of a different spin on it.  When you frame it that way, it seems like you can get almost anything if you’re willing to be flexible with dates and times.

More good news is that they aren’t all stinkers. In fact, there was not really any correlation between satisfaction and availability. The correlation that leaps out is to price, but there aren’t enough restaurants for me to make any statement about that with confidence.

Although the list is sorted by availability, small differences should be taken with a large grain of salt.  Statistically the top three are the same.  I would put these restaurants into three categories:

Good short-notice availability: Trattoria al Forno, Rix Sports Bar & Grill, Ale & Compass, The Wave… of American Flavors, Whispering Canyon Cafe

Limited short-notice availability: Grand Floridian Cafe, Olivia’s Cafe, Hollywood & Vine

Pre-planning necessary: Kona Cafe, Topolino Terrace, Chef Mickey’s

Is last-minute breakfast hard to get, or not?

The interior of the Cape May Cafe
Cape May Cafe is reopening on May 18

On just about every breakfast search I found something available, but rarely more than three locations at a shot. It’s definitely true that for a single search, the choices were very limited.  It’s tempting to cite Disney wisdom that booking when your ADR window opens is essential, but I’m not sure that’s the biggest factor here.  Looking elsewhere, an obvious culprit might be capacity, with many restaurants still not reopened after last year’s closure.

Of the ones that have returned, only some that served breakfast pre-closure are serving it now. In the Magic Kingdom, half of the table service establishments offered breakfast pre-pandemic: none of the four are serving it at the moment.  All in all, only 18% of restaurants are currently serving breakfast, vs. 75% that are serving lunch.  It may simply be that compared to lunch and dinner, fewer breakfast ressies are there for the taking whether you’re six days out or sixty.

The good news is that as vaccination rates rise, distancing requirements are lessened, and capacity increases, restaurants are coming back on line too.  This week, Cape May Café is reopening on Tuesday for both breakfast and dinner; it popped up a couple of times in my breakfast searches. And of course, if your visit is not until later in the summer, more reopenings should also make it easier to make a “regular-notice” reservation too.

Have you made last-minute reservations lately?  Does this match your experience?  Let us know in the comments.


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Jennifer Heymont

Jennifer Heymont has a background in math and biology, but since she couldn't pick between the two she ended up in Data Science where she gets to do both. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, kids, and assorted animal members of the family. Although it took three visits for the Disney bug to "take", she now really wishes she lived a lot closer to the Parks.

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