Maximizing Counter Service Credit Value on the Disney Dining Plan


Eating at the most expensive Counter Service restaurants in Walt Disney World is the best way to maximize your value on the 2014 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. (Note: menu prices continue to rise, so if our prices might be off by ~$1 total, but rankings remain accurate.) For our most recent update, 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 – 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 (we highly recommend the ribs!) 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. Still, Cosmic Ray’s is ranked as #1 in our Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurant Rankings, so you can’t really go wrong. 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. We really like Be Our Guest Restaurant, and think it’s a good place with unique 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. It’s high on our list of the Top 10 Counter Service Restaurants at Walt Disney World, so don’t pass up this gem just because it’s in Future World instead of the more culinary-oriented World Showcase at Epcot. 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!

Planning a Disney trip? Read our other Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews and our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

Your Thoughts…

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!

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49 Responses to “Maximizing Counter Service Credit Value on the Disney Dining Plan”

  1. Where are those tacos in the second photo from? They look better than any I’ve seen :)

  2. Scott G. says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s La Cantina de San Angel in Mexico in Epcot. Great food. Here’s the menu: http://bit.ly/pDmcPn

  3. Candace says:

    I love reading your reviews and trip reports – thank you so much! Just as an fyi though, the Earl of Sandwich does have locations in the real world.

  4. Magicalmom1015 says:

    I have heard that Flametree in Animal Kingdom has great food. I’d like to hear other opinions.

    • Chris F. says:

      I’ll vouch for Flame Tree. I always make it a point to stop off for some ribs there and have never been disappointed. Not a bad selection of sauces either. Not the best, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.

      The kicker though is the ambience. Any of the early seats you can take will be great, with ponds, lush jungle foliage, and great Disney theming, but make a point to wander to a table all the way in the back, towards the water, and get an outstanding view of Everest across the water.

    • Katie says:

      We always make a point of having lunch at Flametree BBQ on our AK day. It has great food and we love the ambiance.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Flame Tree BBQ is awesome. I don’t think you’ll find many people who don’t like it!

      • Heidi says:

        I am one of the few people who does NOT like Flametree BBQ. I found the food to be dry…corn muffin, baked beans and chicken…all of it was dry. My son’s chicken leg was shriveled to virtually a bone with skin attached. However, I found most revolting the birds! What some people refer to as “ambiance” I call a health hazard. Birds were attacking our table and dropping feathers on our food. YUCK. Sorry, I definitely wanted to like it. Much prefer Pizzafari…which gets a bad rap on its own.

    • Robert says:

      I don’t care HOW Flametree stacks up in the “value” department – it WINS the TASTE category with NO CONTENDERS EVEN CLOSE!!

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Big thumbs up to this. It’s my FAVORITE restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I wish I could have added it to the ‘best value’ list (and it was very close, like #11, 12, or 13, I think), but it just didn’t quite make the cut!

  5. Deb. C says:

    Wolfgang Puck Express is wonderful…some of the best food on Disney property! The servings are so big that you could easily share and get more bang for your dining bucks. I’ve even used a counter service credit for breakfast (something I don’t normally do) and I’m going back to do it again. Another favorite of mine is Contempo Cafe in the Contemporary. Their honey lime grilled chicken with house made chips is amazing.

    • BethG says:

      I totally agree with Deb. Wolfgang Puck Express is absolutely delicious and that applies to whatever meal you’re eating (breakfast, lunch and dinner). A very close second in quality and “bang for dining buck” is the Earl of Sandwich. Two fabulous eateries that we try to eat at numerous times each visit.

    • Gael says:

      Love the gourmet pizzas at Wolfgang Puck Express! We could have split a meal, but we ended up taking pizza with us to snack on later. It’s an excellent, high-value use of counter service credits. Also can’t get enough of Earl of Sandwich, but I would never use DDP credits. The Earl is the best value on Disney property.

  6. Bob says:

    Great Post! It’s nice to see some one else think the way I do. I am surprised not to see FlameTree BBQ not on the list. It is another one that you can get excellent value for a credit. I started doing this a number of years ago as I take my band to WDW for Magic Music Days performances. As part of the MMD package, you can purchase meal coupons for meals in the park. We paid $14 a piece for the coupons on our March 2011 trip. Every meal I used the coupon on totaled close to, if not exceeding $20. Definitely received my moneys worth!

  7. Tyler says:

    I enjoy your articles, but you should put up the places where you get the food from the imgages, they all look so good haha.

  8. Jay says:

    The problem with some of the selections in your article is that the price does not include tip. Most counter service offerings do not require a tip but some, for example, Wolfgang Puck do. This makes them less cost effective overall.

    • Disney Mom says:

      Wolfgang Puck is a quick service. Normally we do not tip for quick service, but they do bring you your food, refills and dessert. I’m not sure that tips are expected, but we usually give a little something to the person providing us with the great service. It certainly is a lot less than what you are expected to pay at a sit down meal. Well worth it I might add.

  9. Lisa says:

    Where can I find a list of the menus and prices for the quick service meals. I am trying to decide whether to get the plan or not – I don’t want to eat desserts and rarely drink soda so I think it will be a waste for us. Just wanting to check out the prices and I can’t find anything!

  10. Brandy says:

    What about Be our Guest? Isn’t it a higher priced quick service for lunch?

  11. Amy says:

    I totally agree with Cookes of Dublin, their fish and chips is a great value – hugh piece of fish.
    I would also like to add that the All Star Music resort has nightly meals that are QS. One of which is a roasted 1/2 Chicken, potatoes, green beans, and a roll. Excellent meal — for two!

  12. I LOVE Wolfgang Puck and Sunshine Seasons!

  13. Chirstian says:

    Great list Tom. Did this Plan at the Cast Member rate last month. Best: Be Our Guest Braised Pork for lunch. Meat & Potatoes in a bowl = no complaints from me. Worst: Everything Pop’s “Mom’s Night Out” Fried Chicken. Silly me for expecting Disneyland’s Plaza Inn’s fried chicken here.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, that one is on you. ;) No other fried chicken compares to Disneyland’s Plaza Inn fried chicken. NONE. That is the stuff of legends!

  14. Disney Mom says:

    I have to say I am a big fan of Wolgang Puck Express in Downtown Disney. Not only are there fantastic menu choices, the food is great, and you certainly do get to use your Disney Dining Plan to your benefit. We go there every year we visit Disney, sometimes more than once or twice..and have no complaints. Love Love the food there :)

  15. Tonya says:

    Tangerine Cafe is wonderful if you love Mediterranean food!

  16. Nicole says:

    We love Wolfgang Puck Express,we eat there three or four times a trip. Have never used a dining credit for it but love the place. Last year we were heading there after we parked by Disney Quest. I know it is on the other side of DTD but we like the walk. We passed a group of about 8 adults who seemed to be racking their brains about where to eat. I walked up to them and asked if they had tried Express yet. And when they asked how the food was I told them it was our fourth trip in a few days. Also showed them on my phone what the menu looked like and told them we were heading there if they wanted to follow. They did and they loved it.. The service there is amazing as well. I had been very sick on our last trip and was not eating alot, when we went the one night all I bought was a bowl of soup . The rest of the family was loving the meatloaf and the kids loved the mac and cheese. The waiter noticed that I had emptyed the bowl very fast. It was amazing soup. Then I noticed that I had not ordered my tea, and still did not have much of a voice. The waiter asked how things were my husband had to tell him for me that I loved the soup it was the most I had eaten in a few days. I tried to tell him but I sounded like a frog. In a few min later he was back with more soup and a very large to go cup of hot tea with lemon for me. No charge at all. This is why we go back as much as we do.. It is the little things that make you keep going back..

  17. Gaby says:

    You mentioned that the 2013 free dining plan dates have already been released. When are they?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The ones that have been released are bounceback only. General public ones should be out around July.

    • Terri says:

      Disney Visa Card holders free dining came out yesterday. Free dining if booked between Sept 2-25. It was leaked the FD for the public will be announced May 9! :)

      • Tom Bricker says:

        This is correct, and the general public offer is now available, as well! Thanks for the heads up!

  18. Robin says:

    We always eat at Port Orleans Riverside. There is quite a variety to choose from and if you bring your resort mug, you can also get a bottled drink with your meal. The desserts are great too, including ice cream and a yummy apple dumpling.

  19. Brian says:

    Tom,
    Great site! We did the Disney Dining Plan last year and were able to order adult meals with our child credits for the QS. I know it’s frowned upon, but our hotel check-in host informed it was possible. In fact, she guided us to go this route since the kids meals were said to be quite poor. Does Disney still group the Adult/Child credits together for 2013?

    • Natalie says:

      The QS are not “labeled” as adult or child meals. TS meals however, are.

      My 3 year old is very picky and because we will be FORCED to purchase the DDP for her as well, I have no qualms using her QS credits. I will be making the majority of her meals in our villa as she would never eat the items most commonly served to kids at Disney (hotdogs, hamburgers, etc.).

  20. Flor says:

    Hello!! I love your blog!! We are traveling with our kids aged 3&5 (it’s their first time) in february and getting the dining plan. I have a question about the counter service meals. Can we all four share two meals (using two credits) and use the remaining two at another time?
    Thanks!!
    Flor

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Technically, the rules prohibit what you want to do, but you will have no issues doing this. It’s a rule that literally none of the Cast Members follow, and I assume most don’t even know about.

  21. Oliver says:

    Cosmic Ray’s starlight cafe no longer offers the 1/2 rib and 1/2 chicken combo. Just 1/2 chicken. I was highly disappointed to find this out last week.

    • Chris says:

      They still have it, just not on nights when Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas happens (and may only be offered after 4 PM).

  22. Claudia says:

    Could you possibly edit this post to mention just which park each of these are in? It would be very helpful. Thanks.

  23. Natalie says:

    I wanted to throw out Boardwalk Bakery as an awesome lunch option. For your QS, you get a drink, huge sandwich with a side AND one of their amazing desserts (chocolate bacon brownie anyone?!?!). I’m not sure if it’s the most expensive meal on property but it’s a ton of food. I could argue that the portions are large enough to split into 2 meals.

  24. Just 1 correction, text-overflow: ellipsis; ccan be
    used ffor text that spans multiple lines, at least on webkit…

    Here is my web site; finance skills

  25. Meredith D says:

    Be Our Guest was amazing for lunch. The line looked long, but it moved quicker than we expected. It has amazing ambiance, I literally got tears when I first walked into the ball room. It feels more elegant than a quick service meal. I highly recommend this to anyone. We went there for lunch two times in one week, we lived it that much!!!

  26. diane says:

    I can’t believe you omitted Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe from your list! Great food and the desserts are to die for. They include a salad or fruit cup as the side and have awesome iced coffees. our number 1 QS choice.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We love Kringla, but this is a post about maximizing value. Due to the cheap (relative to other restaurants) sandwich costs, it’s not a good monetary value on the Disney Dining Plan.

  27. Mary Badami says:

    We learned about Cosmic Rays before we used the Dining Plan the first time. We have discovered most of the others in the list over the years. Love these places. That being said, we went to Sunshine Seasons one time close to closing time and the food was very inferior. Every other time we have eaten there it has been great. So I would say that when you go is almost as important as where you go.

  28. RickGregory says:

    Cosmic Rays, if you ordered just right, was the only halfway decent counter service restaurant I dined at. Perhaps some of the others mentioned would have been good. Tangerine at the Moroccan pavilion in World Showcase looked interesting but never was back in the direction when ready to dine.

    Overall the sit-down restaurants, pretty much all requiring advanced reservations, were all good. The counter / quick service ones were by and large inedible. And yet you saw folks consuming large quantities. But then you saw that 70 to 80 percent were obese. This food, like the beignets at Port Orleans resort, fried cardboard.

    Some really really bad food at these spots.

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