I've written a bunch about food on this blog, because ... well, why not? Dining is one of the things that makes your WDW vacation so unique. Here I talked about classic Disney snacks and I have an in depth guide to dining in the trip planning section, which talks about (among other things) quick service vs. table service, the Disney Dining Plan and more. Today we're going to focus on table service restaurants, because we're going to talk about making dining reservations (until Disney starts "allowing" people to make quick service reservations, table service are the only ones we need to worry about here).
Specifically, I want to talk about the when and how of making these reservations. In the past, you could make advance dining reservations (ADRs) 180 days before your trip. That's about six months ahead of time! Partially due to Covid and also partially due to guest satisfaction, that time has been cut down to 60 days before your trip. Personally, I preferred the old system, as I'm a planner (as you can probably tell) and since a lot of people weren't prepared to even book a trip 180 days beforehand, let along reserve seats in a restaurant, this worked to my advantage (and is probably a factor in why it was changed).
One big factor we should discuss is where you are staying. Everyone can make ADRs 60 days before a particular day at a park. But those staying on property get an added bonus - you can make reservations for 60 days PLUS the length of your trip (up to 10 days) all at once. In other words, if you are staying for seven days, you can make an ADR that is 67 days away, whereas if you aren't staying on property, you have to make each day's reservations separately at 60 days out.
This can make a huge difference, as many of the most popular restaurants will be filled before you even get a chance to make reservations. There are some places that have same day availability or accept walk ups, but if you're looking for anything very popular, this is going to take a lot of luck if you get anything at all. In fact, making a reservation at exactly 60 days out, there is a good possibility that you won't find any availability or that it will be at a time that isn't convenient for you.
Any new restaurant is going to be the most popular (just like any new ride) and in this case, the current hardest ADR to make is Space 220 at Epcot. Among the other most difficult places to get are 'Ohana at the Polynesian, Coral Reef at Epcot, Oga's Cantina at Hollywood Studios and Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom. Anything involving character meals will always be popular as well, especially Cinderella's Royal Table.
One tip here would be to eat at off times. Prime times are more likely to fill up first, so if you only see a dinner reservation for 4:00 and you can make that work, go for it. Similarly, you can make a reservation for lunchtime - dinner tends to be more popular for table service restaurants, but I find that having a big lunch and a quick service dinner, for example, can really work to give yourself a break when you're most tired.
Make sure you know when your 60 day window opens. There are tools that will help you with this, but my favorite one is simply Google. Just remember (or put it on your calendar) and get ready. Prepare a list in advance of the days and times you want your reservations. If you're only spending one day at Epcot, for example, that's the only day you can attempt to score that Space 220 reservation. If you're more flexible, that will be to your benefit.
Write your list down in order of importance, not in date order. If you're looking for an easy to get restaurant on your first day, put that near the end of your list. That may seem counterintuitive but it's much more important to get the harder ones completed first. Putting your hardest to get places at the end of your trip gives you a better chance (this was the theory with the old FastPass+ system as well, but that's a moot point now). Also, always have a backup handy - if you get shut out of your top choice, it's better to have something than nothing.
Advance Dining Reservations open at 6:00 a.m. on your 60 day mark. That's Eastern time, to be clear - if you're coming from another time zone, it will be even earlier. And while that might be difficult, it will be worth it in the end. Just set an alarm, book your restaurants (you should be done within ten minutes, tops) and go back to sleep (unless you're too excited about scoring that Be Our Guest reservation!)
Another important tip - have two (or more) people logged in to one My Disney Experience account. My wife logs in to my account and we both use our phones, though booking on the computer is also an option. There's nothing illegal about doing it this way, though Disney doesn't advertise that two people can be logged into the same account at once (this also used to be quite helpful when booking a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance but that also currently doesn't apply). Just make sure you're not both going for the same days - split them up so that one of you goes for the highest priority restaurant on your list and the other person does number two, and then continue from there.
When using the My Disney Experience app, click the "plus" button on the bottom, then "check dining availability" (the top option), select your party size and date, then search by time. I find that looking for a specific time rather than "lunch" or "dinner" often yields better results, but it takes longer to scroll sideways to your time, so your mileage may vary. Restaurants show up in alphabetical order across the whole property - there's no way to search by park or resort. Pro tip - 'Ohana begins with an apostrophe, not an O - if you don't see it listed at the top of your screen, there's nothing available, so save yourself the scrolling time.
If you miss out, don't fret. You can always check periodically before your trip as things open up all the time due to cancellations. In fact, the best time to adjust anything is within the first hour of booking - so many people are booking at the same time that people are constantly changing things if something better appears. Keep looking. Also take advantage of Touring Plans handy reservation finder where you can put in up to two reservations at a time for them to check. They will text you when something is found for your specifications. If you're not fast, it won't be there by the time you log in, but this still works better than just checking randomly. If you get a text from them and don't get the reservation, make sure to start the search again - the program considers it "found" once they text you and won't run again unless you tell it.
Dining can be one of the best experiences at Walt Disney World. Use these tips and good luck getting what you're looking for!