Getting a Drink at Disney (Or Not)

I’m not often critical of Disney customer service.  They wrote the book on it.  Every company should follow their model.  Except when it comes to booze.

The most difficult thing to deal with, at least at Disney World here in Florida, is the fact that you have to work really hard to get a drink.  It’s not that they don’t have it.  The problem is in the translation from wherever the hell they store it to putting it in front of you.  I’m not talking about just wine, either.

They have top flight restaurants, like Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Victoria & Albert’s at The Grand Floridian, and California Grill at the Contemporary.   They employ a legion of sommeliers.  They have some great wine lists—albeit hideously marked up, second only to Las Vegas for ridiculousness in some cases.  The resorts all have really nice bars.  And it always takes forever to get served.

Service at a dinner table has always been fine, in some cases exemplary.  At bars it’s a completely different story.  I don’t know—and as a customer don’t much care—why.  I suspect they’re constantly understaffed and the bar servers are also the service bar for the restaurants.  Again, I don’t really care why.

We’ve had exceptions.  At the bar at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge, the bartenders have always been spot on.  Occasionally, the bartenders at California Grill have been top notch.  Most of our stories, however, are just like what happened last night at Jiko.

We arrived about 15 minutes early to claim our reservation.  They said they were running on time, so we figured we’d have enough time to go over to the bar and order something to start with.  In fact, I knew exactly what we wanted: a bottle of the Graham Beck’s Brut Rosé sparkler.  I stood at the empty chair at the 5-seat bar (which also includes 3 bar tables).  It took five minutes for the bartender to actually appear, then four trips past me out to the tables and back before recognizing me.  Once I got his attention, he wasn’t getting off the hook, and I ordered the bottle and four flutes.  Ten minutes passed.  I chatted a bit with a couple sitting at the bar.  The bartender reappeared, empty-handed.  About this time, our buzzer went off, so I told him to skip it, I’d just order the bottle at the table.

There have been other times when it took so long for a bar server to even say hello to us that we’ve left—and we’re super-patient diners/drinkers.  I know the service industry is sometimes demanding.  When someone is making an honest effort, we’re okay with it.  Disney’s failure in this regard has been repeated with amazing regularity. 

Once during the Food and Wine Festival, we stopped for a late drink (Disney late—it was like 10pm) at The Swan (or Dolphin—I get the two of them mixed up).  The bar was packed—not unexpected during Food and Wine.  There was a single bartender for the 10-12 seat bar and tables that seated easily 50 more.  No server.  No bar back.  No anything.  The poor guy was trying, but he was doing the work of six people.  It was so bad that I eventually went out to the hotel desk (which was just across the lobby) and told them that he was really struggling.  I think they sent a manager or something over to help him, which helped not at all.  We eventually left without ever getting served.

We don’t go to Disney to go nightclubbing.  That said, after a long day of being the parks, it’s simply nice to settle into a quiet space (of which there are many) and wind down with a cocktail (for The Happiest Place on Earth, there sure is a lot of crying).  Unfortunately, their repeated inability to serve them in a timely fashion only ratchets up the stress.  For a company whose customer service is otherwise unparalleled, this is nothing short of unforgivable.


About sheldonmenery

Sheldon Menery is a self-taught food and wine aficionado who has circled the globe in search of the riches it has to offer. He's wined and dined at some of the best (and worst) places in the world.
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One Response to Getting a Drink at Disney (Or Not)

  1. Christina says:

    I have to agree 100% with you on this. As a frequent guest of WDW my husband and I have had the same problems. We were at the pub in England @ Epcot. It was wall to wall people and only 2 bartenders. And one of them was just doing drinks for diners. Thankfully we stay at the Wilderness and can get a drink at Artist Point with out any grief. Because as you said the bartenders are spot on there. Well except that when your from WI and you ask for an Old Fashioned. 🙂

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