Eating at the most expensive Counter Service restaurants in Walt Disney World is the best way to maximize your value on the 2013 Disney Dining Plan, especially if you’re on the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan, as those are the only meals you get! If value maximization is your concern, you should also make sure to get your “money’s worth” from Table Service meals (click here to see our tips for maximizing your table service dining at Walt Disney World). While most Counter Service combos are priced right around $10, there are some places you can eat and combos you can purchase that give you a lot more bang for your buck!
This list calculated the most expensive meals by taking the highest combo, dessert, and beverage available on the Dining Plan and adding them together. We did this as opposed to taking the median or mean since, if you’re truly concerned with saving as much money as possible, you’re going to be ordering more expensive menu items. We feel considering only the more expensive menu items is most helpful to Guests looking to maximize the Disney Dining Plan value, but your mileage may vary.
Additionally, since this list contemplates only expensive items, this list is completely objective. If a restaurant “scored” better thanks to its pricier options, it’s on the list, regardless of whether I think its food stinks. It’s very important to consider quality of food, not just prices, when determining where you want to eat. You’re not really getting more “value” for your money if you eat expensive food that you don’t like!
This list is updated yearly, with prices adjusted and restaurants shuffled around the list, bounced, or added as costs change. Prices have consistently increased by about 5% since 2011. For 2013, Be Our Guest Restaurant and Katsura Grill joined the list, bumping Riverside Mill and La Cantina de San Angel.
1. Wolfgang Puck Express – We’ve never eaten at Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney (we don’t eat at restaurants that can be found in the “outside world” at Disney) ourselves so I cannot comment on the quality of the food, but Wolfgang Puck Express once again takes the top spot for “2013 Best Disney Dining Plan Value” for Counter Service restaurants. It’s a great place to maximize the value of your Disney Dining Plan Quick Service credits thanks to the many expensive entrees, especially the salmon and pasta dishes! Total Value: $25.90.
2. Pepper Market – As of the start of 2013, Pepper Market is once again a full-time food court (instead of doing a lunch buffet). This restaurant at Coronado Springs has a lot of options (possibly because of the large convention space?) and a lot of them are expensive. A few of the Chef’s station combos are priced at $14.99 and many options are priced at $13.99 or above. Each of these combos are served with two sides, making them not only a good value from the perspective of price, but also from the perspective of what you get for your money. Just don’t order the 14″ pizzas, as those require two credits, and as such, are a poor value. Total Value: $24.93.
3. Tangierine Cafe – One of the most unique, and arguably one of the best Counter Service restaurants at Walt Disney World, you really can’t go wrong with anything here. To maximize your value, try the Mediterranean Sliders Combo, which is the most expensive entree (and is very filling!). Total Value: $22.97.
4. Fairfax Fare - We’re a bit surprised to see this smaller Disney’s Hollywood Studios Counter Service restaurant make the list, but thanks to the Chicken and Spareribs combo, this restaurant ranks highly. Everything else here is fairly average in price, so unless you’re ordering that combo, don’t expect great value here. Total Value: $22.48.
5. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe – This is the restaurant that inspired this whole series of posts. When we first booked the Disney Dining Plan in 2007, I wanted to maximize value, and saw the 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combination (served with delicious Mashed Potatoes) on the All Ears menu. After that, I strove to find the best “deals” on other menus. Less experienced at the time, I only found Tangierine Cafe and Sunshine Seasons at the time as the other “best values,” but we made up for that by eating at Cosmic Ray’s many, many times that trip! In my experience, the 1/2 Chicken and Rib combo can be hit or miss taste-wise. Sometimes it’s dry and/or rubbery, sometimes it’s flavorful and delicious. Total Value: $21.77.
6. Cooke’s of Dublin – Cooke’s moves up several spots in 2013. It’s another Downtown Disney restaurant, and another restaurant at which we haven’t eaten. (The only place we’ve eaten at Downtown Disney, for what it’s worth, is Earl of Sandwich, which is awesome.) The Georges Bank Atlantic Scallops offer the best value here. Total Value: $20.45.
7. Katsura Grill – This fairly new restaurant joins the list thanks mostly to its sushi combos, but an above-average dessert also helps give it the bump. Some dishes at Katsura Grill have large portions, especially the pricier “combos,” but many dishes are large by virtue of containing a large amount of rice. Katsura Grill is fairly divisive. While we like Japanese cuisine, we don’t care for Katsura Grill. We think it’s very Americanized and bland–but we know a lot of people who love it! Total Value: $20.24.
8. Be Our Guest Restaurant (Lunch Only) - Right now this lavishly themed restaurant in New Fantasyland is inundated by crowds, but if you’re to bear the wait to get in, you’ll find interesting food (for Fantasyland) and somewhat expensive options. It’s somewhere you should eat regardless of whether you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, as it’s like an attraction in itself, but that’s doubly true if you’re on the Disney Dining, as you can get some bang for your buck!Total Value: $20.07.
9. Sunshine Seasons – If you’ve ever read this site, it may not be surprising to hear that we’re pretty happy to see Sunshine Seasons make this list. Everything at “The Grill” is above $10, plus the (amazingly decadent) desserts are $3.99 or so. Our top picks include the Oak-fired Rotisserie Half Chicken and the Key Lime Pie. Total Value: $20.07.
10. Everything Pop – Okay, so unless you’re staying at Pop Century or you really like tie-dyed cheese cake, chances are, you’re not going to head to the Pop Century food court to use a Quick Service credit, even if it does offer good value. If you do head over here, the you’ll have to get the Pecan Tart å la mode instead of the tie-dyed cheesecake. Probably not a sacrifice many people will want to make! Total Value: $20.06.
Really, once you get past the first five restaurants on this list, there’s not much that separates the remaining Counter Service Walt Disney World restaurants. Much like the New York Strip Steaks being the cornerstone of the Table Service list, “Combos” (usually chicken and ribs) seem to be pretty common on this list. Just because a restaurant isn’t on this list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dine there, either. After #10 on this list, you can find a lot of Counter Service restaurants with $18-19 in “total value,” meaning the difference between #6 on this list and not being on this list is sometimes only around $1-2. With that little at stake, you really ought to just eat where you want if the menus for these restaurants don’t look appealing!
You can find an entree that costs at least $9 at almost every Counter Service restaurant, and desserts and drinks are typically pretty close in price at these restaurants. Overall, the price differences at Counter Service restaurants are less drastic than they are at Table Service restaurants, but you can still come out pretty far ahead by eating at the right Counter Service restaurants.
Hopefully this list helps you get more bang for your buck on the Disney Dining Plan. Check out our Value-Maximizing tips for Snacks and Value-Maximizing Tips for Table Service Restaurants to get even more value out of the Disney Dining Plan!
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What tips do you have for getting the most out of the Disney Dining Plan? If you have any tips to maximize your value at other Counter Service restaurants, please share them in the comments!