The last few days in Walt Disney World news have been a whirlwind of questions and confusion about a strange email Disney Dining Experience members received. By email, dated November 9, 2007, Disney sent an email entitled "Upgraded Disney Dining Experience Process." The vast majority of the email detailed Disney's new policy of issuing new or renewal Disney Dining Experience (DDE) cards. Guest Relations locations at Epcot,Magic Kingdom Park, Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney West Side and Marketplace will now be able to print permanent Disney Dining Experience membership cards for immediate use. This service is designed for existing and new members. Cards produced at the Guest Relations locations will be printed on paper stock similar to the annual pass tickets. This is a huge improvement after having to wait 3-6 weeks for cards ordered over the phone (although temporary cards were always available upon request). The real controversy came, however, at the tail end of the e-mail:
We would also like to inform you that the Walt Disney World Resort will be implementing an across property policy change regarding gratuity at all food and beverage locations. Effective January 1, 2008, 18% gratuity will be added to all transactions, regardless of party size. Thank you for your continued support.
For those of you that don't know, Florida Residents and Annual Passholders can join the Disney Dining Experience and enjoy a 20% discount on food and beverages (including alcoholic beverages, which is very nice!) at most full-service restaurants and lounges in the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks and hotels. The benefit is valid for a party of up to 10 people. Only one discount card can be used per table. The member must be present and must present the card when ordering. In addition to the 20% discount on food and beverages, membership includes complimentary resort parking (including valet parking) and theme park parking for dining, invitations to special member-only events, half-price admission to Pleasure Island (member and one guest, excludes special events), and FREE admission to Atlantic Dance Hall on the Boardwalk (member and one guest). Cost for a Disney Dining Experience membership is $85 per year for Florida residents and $65 for Annual and Seasonal Passholders.
I've always enjoyed the DDE. I saved over $100 on dining during my last trip and I plan on going to WDW at least two more times before my card is up for renewal. That will mean significant savings for me (can you tell I like to eat?) before the year is out.
Questions began to fly as people were wondering if this was an overall policy that effected all transactions or just DDE meals and drinks. The controversy with Disney's email was so significant, that Disney sent a follow-up email on Saturday, November 10th. The email clarified the automatic gratuity policy. Here is an excerpt:
Many of you have expressed concern about the 18% gratuity that will be added to all Disney Dining Experience transactions. When using your Disney Dining Experience membership card the assessed gratuity will be added to all table service restaurant locations and lounges for all transactions regardless of party size. Gratuity will not be added to any counter service, food cart or quick service locations. In the past, gratuity was only implemented for larger parties of 8 or more for guests utilizing their Disney Dining Experience membership.
This adjustment to the program has been implemented in order to align the Disney Dining Experience Program with other dining experiences where gratuities are included. Effective January 1, 2008, when utilizing your Disney Dining Experience discount 18% gratuity will be added."
I don't mind this mandatory gratuity of 18% because in my experience, most servers I've encountered have been excellent, attentive, and helpful. That aside, I think this mandatory program is just another way for Disney to nickel and dime its guests. As Dennis Miller used to say…now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but as WDW gets more and more popular, it seems as if Disney is making money not only off the cost of admission (from everything to resorts, meals, tickets, souvenirs, photos, you name it), but is also making money off small transactions as well. Separate ticketed events that must be purchased on top of regular park admission. The extinction of the free picture during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. $10 a day internet in resort guest rooms. Now, we have no choice in gratuity as DDE cardholders are now required to pay a mandatory 18%. At the end of the day, it all adds up.