Table Service Dining Plans

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Dining plans are nothing new, but the modern hospitality industry is starting to place a lot of emphasis on table-service options. We'll see what this means and why it's become such a trend.

Table Service Dining Plans

Love it or hate it, Walt Disney World is one of the world's top travel destinations because of its quality of service. As a result, the Disney parks and resorts exert a fair amount of influence on customers' standards and expectations of the hospitality industry.

In 2005, Walt Disney World released a dining plan where guests paid an upfront fee and then had access to a number of dining options on property. The hospitality industry had done this already, but what set Disney's dining plan apart was its breadth of options--over 100 dining options qualify for the plan--as well as its focus on table-service dining, not just buffet or counter-service meals.

Disney parks and resorts have exerted a fair degree of influence on the hospitality industry
Walt Disney World

Since then, this hospitality trend has been growing continually in resorts, conference centers, and hotels around the world. People today are more likely than ever to make traveling decisions based upon the quality and diversity of dining options, as well as ease of accessing good food. So for people in the culinary arts or hospitality management industries today, dining plans are something we should plan to see for a while.

Benefits of a Dining Plan

Let's start by asking a simple question: why do people like dining plans? Whether in a five-star resort or a college campus, the ideology behind the dining plan is the same: you can pay for it up front.

In resorts and amusement parks, this means that guests don't have to worry about bringing cash (or even their wallets) with them. They have pre-paid for access to certain restaurants or menus, so it's one less thing to worry about. For people in conference centers or hotels, the ability to pre-pay for food is a convenient way to bundle and compile all expenses, especially if the trip is being paid for, reimbursed, or written off.

Incorporating Table-Service Dining

So, why does it matter if dining plans include table-service dining or not? Many dining plans are built around buffet or counter-service dining, which lets the food provider control the menu and reduce wait-staff costs. However, as we mentioned, food has become a much larger part of how/why people travel. The World Food Travel Association, an organization devoted to studying trends in food and tourism, estimates that about 75% of modern travelers consider food in choosing their destination, and almost 90% claim that a positive culinary experience makes them more likely to visit that place again.

Table-service dining often provides a level of hospitality that counter-service does not

The point is that traditional convenience food-based dining plans aren't cutting it for modern travelers. Now, people aren't looking to eat something quick on their vacation; the dining experience is the vacation. So, dining plans that incorporate table-service options are more likely to attract people who are looking for a more refined, less rushed dining experience. Everything that table-service dining has to offer--better service, chef-prepared meals, and (yes) better ambience for taking pictures of food to share on social media--matters to today's consumers.

Preparing a Table-Service Dining Plan

So, what exactly does a table-service dining plan look like? As with everything in the food and hospitality industries, it depends on how much your guests are willing to spend. Dining plans are traditionally exclusive in menu offerings; they're a way for the restaurant to adjust for the guests paying for their food upfront.

So, if your guests are willing to drop lots of money on dining plans, your menus can be more diverse because there will be less risk for the restaurant (again, Disney World dining plans give guests access to over 100 dining locations). However, for the most cost-effective traveler, a cheaper dining plan that offers fewer options may be sufficient. Many places (like conference centers) offer a choice of variously priced menus when the venue is reserved.

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