The Pundit spent Father’s Day weekend at Walt Disney World (the Jr. Pundits shrewdly determined that Dad would love the chance to pick any ride he wanted to go on for Father’s Day), which gave us a chance to evaluate its efforts to serve healthier food at its theme parks.
There is no question that one can eat as healthy as one wishes at Walt Disney World; the upscale restaurants at the international pavilions in EPCOT and in the hotels carry everything. The Pundit is trying to drop a few pounds, and our dinner at Spoodles, a Mediterranean restaurant at the Boardwalk resort, was both delicious and offered plentiful healthful options.
Fast food in the parks is always more problematic. As we wrote here, we find Disney’s claim that it has changed the default option to healthy food on its kid’s meals to not really be accurate. The reality is that there is no longer any default option, and so if you order a kid’s hamburger, they ask what options you want on the side. You can choose healthy sides or unhealthy sides.
The Pundit family doesn’t do much fast food, though, as we tend to book sit-down character meals in the park, and there we find Disney is probably caught in the same trap as many foodservice operators are when it comes to fresh produce: they cheap out.
At the hotel restaurants Disney offers everything, and they will sell you whatever you want on an a la carte basis. When it comes to things Disney is paying for, such as upgrades to the menu at fixed menu restaurants, they really like to give you starch much more than fresh produce.
For example, the kids love dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern, a fixed-menu, family-style, all-you-can-eat dinner option during which Pluto, Goofy, Minnie and Chip & Dale came to our table. To speed service, the restaurant, which sports a colonial theme appropriate to its location in the Magic Kingdom, serves every patron a decent salad (Mrs. Pundit loves the Strawberry Vinaigrette Dressing) and then for the main course sliced turkey, beef and pork loin served over a mountain of bread crumb stuffing. Along with this comes a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes and an equally large bowl of macaroni and cheese. They also serve a tiny plate of vegetables. On our visit it was green beans.
One issue is that, to our taste, they ruin the green beans with some sauce. We find, consistently, the park over-sauces vegetables and we fear it is often with butter. We had a similar fixed menu lunch at the Land Pavilion in Epcot, and the tiny serving of vegetables were simply drenched in what certainly appeared to be a butter sauce, which you could see pooling at the bottom of the serving plate.
Our bigger point is that this Liberty Tree Tavern main course is an illustration of the produce dilemma in foodservice operations:
- The operators emphasize the protein as that is what they are evaluated on by consumers. All you can eat on three meats makes many consumers feel they are getting good value.
- Massive amounts of starch — in this case, copious amounts of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and stuffing — fill up consumers with cheap food. They feel fully sated walking out of the restaurant. Many large bowls and platters filled with cheap starches to both the eye and the stomach make the meal feel bountiful.
- The niggardly small serving of green beans is accounted for very simply — it is not as important to consumer perception as the protein and not as cheap as the starch. That, in a sentence, is why they don’t serve three large platters of vegetables to go along with the starch.
For the produce world, in general, this is a problem in dealing with foodservice operators. For Disney, an organization that has taken upon itself an obligation to encourage people to eat in a more healthy manner, menus like this are simply inappropriate and should be changed.