Good Food and Good Tech: Disney’s New Be Our Guest Restaurant

Posted By Debbie on November 29, 2012

I was in Disney World, Florida in mid-November 2012, and was lucky to be let into the previews of their still-being-built Fantasyland. A few rides are ready, a few still being built. A lot of it is themed from the Beauty and the Beast movie, including a face character (guy walking around dressed as someone) of Gaston, who was perfectly narcissistic and rude to everyone.

For me, the Magic Kingdom has always meant “eat somewhere else.” The place is full of chicken fingers and fries. Haven’t tried the turkey legs though I did find out they are REALLY turkey legs and not some other animal. Or it’s soup in a breadbowl. Ugh. Knowing I’d be in the Magic Kingdom most of the day, I doubled up on breakfast thinking I wouldn’t be able to eat there anyway. I was pleasantly surprised.

Let me tell you about my experience, and then my suggestions for better UX.

Disney Tries Something New

Disney typically has two types of eateries on their grounds. Quick Service are your cafeteria style places. Order, wait for a tray, get your tray, go sit down. See “soup in a breadbowl” above. The other is Table Service, where you are waited on by wait staff, your traditional dining experience. Be Our Guest uses a new style. I sadly forgot what they’re calling it. They’re labelling it Quick Service for ease of the dining plan many people are on. But it’s a variation, and here’s why.

You start by going to a kiosk, not a cashier. It’s a touch screen environment. It wasn’t as intuitive as I’d hoped, but I knew it was going to be not totally intuitive when I realised it was a cast member’s job to stand next to me and tell me what to do. Ugh. Hire more UX people, please! Starting the process wasn’t intuitive. I was given a red plastic pin cushion, which they told me was a “rose.” I start by matching up the green Mickey Head on the rose to a not-lit-up Mickey Head on the credit card machine attached to the ordering kiosk. Ugh. Someone had to tell me show me what to do because the text explanation on the screen didn’t cut it.

And the ordering begins. Some good choices. Healthy, seasonal choices, which are new to the Magic Kingdom. As you tap the touch screen, your order is updated in the right column. I was surprised it didn’t allow for more customising of foods. Somethings offered “no cheese” or “dressing on the side,” but I couldn’t truly customise most things they offered. Click to enlarge:

I mused out loud that it might be hard to find something to suit my food allergies/preferences without being able to really customise things. The cast member (what Disney calls every worker) standing there said no, here is an allergy section. Didn’t see that. Hire better UX, please, Disney! OK, there is an allergy button at the top, which reveals a set of check boxes. You can’t add your own, but checking these and submitting that WILL recreate the menu based on what you can have. Most interesting was that things NOT on the menu before now popped up. So the allergy menu wasn’t a subset. It was part subset, part things I never saw before on the menu. Interesting. Click to enlarge:

Once my order was done, I was told to go find any seat in the dining room, and leave my “rose” on the table. Here it is (click to enlarge). Note the green Mickey Head that I was supposed to line up with another thing I didn’t easily notice.

In what seemed like a couple of minutes, someone came to my table carrying my food and confirming my allergies. Disney is great about making sure you are NOT eating anything you can’t have. They’re beyond great. Deserves it’s own post for amazing dining UX. 🙂 So to avoid fish and gluten, here is my quinoa salad and gluten-free lemon puffy thing dessert! Click to enlarge:

Not only was it fast, priced OK, and allergy-free but it was GOOD. Goodbye, chicken fingers, fries, and soup in a breadbowl. I can finally eat in the Magic Kingdom again. This was GOOD. Tasted really fresh. Nobody just reheated this. The salad was so light. The quinoa had a great flavour, mildly spiced. The dessert was so yummy I couldn’t believe it was gluten free. Great job, Disney chefs!

And for those of you thinking about that Disney attention to theme and experience, here is a shot of the dining room. It’s a bit dark, but you can see it’s designed to look exactly like the ballroom in Beast’s castle from the movie. Click to enlarge:

For dinner, Be Our Guest is traditional table service, and doesn’t use all this tech.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, this is a GREAT start from Disney on new ways to order. I’m sure this is killer efficient for them. However, it won’t be as efficient for Disney or the guests if you need a helper to place an order at a kiosk. Yes, have helpers on hand in case someone is truly lost. But in general, I should be able to walk up to that kiosk, and know exactly what to do.

Here is how I would suggest changing the user experience of the kiosk ordering. In general, I think I’d treat it more like self-check in for a flight and then the safety video for your flight. 🙂

  1. If you need me to match my rose’s green Mickey Head to the hard-to-notice green Mickey Head on the credit card swiping device (on a waist-level platform), don’t write it as text on the screen. Write it, and show a looping video of someone taking that rose, going to the green Mickey Head, and holding it up to the other thing. That’s partially to make it more obvious and partially for the zillions of international guests who barely speak English. Think airline safety videos!
  2. Next, ask if anybody in my party has any food allergies. Think airline self-check in. Do you have any bags to check. No moves you along, yes brings you to the flow for that. If it’s NO allergies, great. Leave the not-totally-obvious allergy button at the top, and get them into ordering. If it’s yes, great time to find out how many people you’re ordering for and who’s allergic to what. Knowing there are probably kids there, maybe it would be fun to have kids enter their names. Like Danny is allergic to peanuts and Samantha is gluten-free. Then it can walk you through OK, time for Mom to order. She gets the whole menu. Time for Danny to order. He can tap the screen. He’ll love it! 🙂 Time for Samantha to order. Then the Disney cast member delivering the food can address people by name. Like, “Hi, Danny. You can’t have peanuts, so here’s your chicken salad!” I think people will love that, and it makes all the allergy stuff REALLY clear and easy.
  3. If that thing is supposed to be a rose, make it look like a rose. The company that brings you talking robots who can play catch (well, they don’t talk in this video, but Disney already has audio animatronics, as they call them) SHOULD be able to give you a rose that looks like a rose. Sure, it can still have the RF in it or whatever tells the servers which table you sat at. But make it look like a rose and not a pin cushion.
  4. Now this may be going way out there, but I’d say install an ordering interface right at the table. Sounds kooky. But how many times do kids order different things, and then whine, “I want what SHE has!” In that case, someone would have to go out, get on line for a kiosk, etc… But how much extra visit could you get from a family who decides they want another salad, side of fries, or extra dessert? Might be a worthwhile cash machine for Disney and family happy-maker. Heck, make an app for it, though that may not tell the server what table you’re at.

In fact, I’d love for Disney to test my last idea for efficiency. The test would be get in line for kiosk, stand at kiosk deciding and ordering, get rose, go sit down versus wait for table, be seated, order from touchscreen AT your table, wait for food. Both are equally safe and equally cool. The whole rose thing is now eliminated. It also makes sure that you can only sit down if you can find a table. Since it’s cafeteria style, what would happen if families got their rose, ordered, and then couldn’t find a table? Sitting them first would ensure they have a table. I think ordering AT the table would give people more time to decide, lead them to order more, and cut the line I had to wait on for a kiosk.

Just an idea! But I say test it!

All in all, Be Our Guest was a great experience, and Imagineers admit it’s evolving. I’ll certainly eat there again next time I’m in the Magic Kingdom.