To get the best bang for your counter service credit “buck” on the 2016 Disney Dining Plan, you will want to eat at the Walt Disney World restaurants on this list. The restaurants here offer the best ‘value maximization’ of counter service Disney Dining Plan credits because they serve the most expensive meals (meaning greater savings), but this list is entirely objective, so best “value” is solely in terms of money, not quality.
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 has been updated (most recently on January 19, 2016) since it was originally written. For our 2016 recent update, Everything Pop joins the list thanks to its interesting new gourmet burgers. Other noteworthy changes: Be Our Guest Restaurant climbed several spots due to its addition of breakfast, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe’s new menu kept it as a contender, and a other few restaurants moved around a bit. Landscape of Flavors just missed the list for the second year in a row, but remains an excellent choice for both value and quality.
Which other Walt Disney World counter service restaurants made the list? Let’s take a look!
1. Wolfgang Puck Express – We’ve never eaten at Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney Springs, ourselves so I cannot comment on the quality of the food, but many people rave about it. Wolfgang Puck Express once again takes the top spot for “2016 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.
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 or above $16 (we highly recommend the ribs!) and many options are priced at $15 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.
3. Be Our Guest Restaurant (Breakfast & Lunch) – This lavishly themed restaurant in New Fantasyland is still inundated by crowds. Thanks to the addition of a pricey breakfast last year, it moves up to the #3 spot on the list for counter service restaurants (for lunch, it would be #6) for 2016. It now accepts Advance Dining Reservations, too. If you’re able to get a table here, you’ll find interesting & delicious cuisine, an awesome environment, and somewhat expensive options. While we aren’t huge fans of the breakfast at Be Our Guest Restaurant, it’s a different story later in the day. We really like Be Our Guest Restaurant for lunch, 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. 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!
4. 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!).
5. 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. I tried this combo last year, and was disappointed both in terms of its quality and size, so keep that in mind before just going for it because of the value.
6. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe – This is the restaurant that inspired this whole series of posts. When booked the Disney Dining Plan for the very first time, I knew wanted to maximize value, and saw the 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combination on 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 as the other “best values,” but we made up for that by eating at Cosmic Ray’s many, many times that first trip with the Disney Dining Plan. Since then, we’ve learned a thing or two. 😉 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 reasonably well in our Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurant Rankings, so you can’t really go wrong.
7. Everything Pop – This is a new entry on the list for 2016, replacing Cookes of Dublin at Disney Springs (fine by me–I wasn’t all that impressed by Cookes). Everything Pop makes the list for one reason and one reason only: glorious gourmet burgers. These burgers were rolled out last summer, in what we suspect was a test for other locations. At first blush, some of these are a bit odd (hot dogs on a burger?!), but they are surprisingly delicious, and rank among the best counter service burgers at Walt Disney World. There are a few choices for maximizing your value here, so burger lovers should check it out.
8. Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe – Pecos Bill overhauled its menu late last year, but remains on the list thanks to the Steak Fajita Platter. As I said in my Pecos Bill Restaurant Review, this new menu is a huge improvement over the old one, and the new toppings bar is the best anywhere at Walt Disney World (as of January 2016, it still has the guacamole!). Even if you aren’t going for the high-priced steak fajitas, there are several other menu items that are above-average uses of DDP credits, and this is also one of the most filling restaurants on the list thanks to that toppings bar.
9. 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. We like Japanese cuisine, and we think Katsura Grill is a fairly good option for Epcot (it’s listed highly on our Epcot Counter Service Restaurant Rankings) for having a number of solid options!
10. 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 many of the amazingly decadent desserts are around $5 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. My tip: check for the Lamb Skewers when you visit–they aren’t on the actual menu, but they’ve been on the temporary menu (with a little sign posted at the grill), on each of our visits from October 2015 through January 2016.
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.
Based on our math, as of 2016 there are 13 restaurants at Walt Disney World that offer $20+ in maximum value, with Wolfgang Puck Express approaching the $30 mark (perhaps it will hit that with the seemingly annual menu price increases)? If you go by average value instead of maximum value, you can find a lot of Counter Service restaurants with $18-19 in “total value.” This means that the difference between the later entries on this list and other spots 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 $10 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 101 Delicious Walt Disney World Dining Tips. If you are planning a Walt Disney World trip, make sure to also read our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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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!