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Has The Garden Grill Lost Its Sustainable Soul?

Garden Grill Sign

“Farm-Fresh Food with a Vision.” This is a quote from Disney World’s website used to describe the flagship restaurant of Epcot’s The Land pavilion, The Garden Grill. For decades, The Land has proven unique among Disney pavilions in not just providing guests with unique dining but making us stop and think about what we eat and where it comes from.

Through its thirty-year evolution from “The Good Turn Restaurant” to “Chip n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast”, The Garden Grill has carried this torch as a mainstay for sustainable comfort food and farm-fresh eating. However, recent changes have raised a worrisome question…

Is there actually any “garden” left in The Garden Grill?

Though resort literature still touts the Garden Grill as a healthy, sustainable dining experience, something has shifted at Epcot’s rotating restaurant. Gone is the educational vision. Gone is the farm fresh element. Remarkable food has been replaced with heaping skillets of cafeteria starches and gravy-drowned meat, and the worst part is that the prices have not adjusted with the change.

This article is part review and part lament, exploring just why it appears Epcot’s Garden Grill has lost its sustainable soul.

A step back in time…

Girl with Chip at the Garden GrillImage: Beth, Flickr (license)

I was just a kid when we first ate at The Garden Grill, easily one of my favorite meals every Disney World visit. The rotating restaurant was enough of an experience itself with the novelty of its changing scenery, but the food stood out on a level all its own. Baskets of warm bread and butter preceded bowls of fresh green salad harvested from the greenhouse downstairs. I remember the cucumbers in particular—juicy, crispy, and big as footballs.

Steaming baskets of sustainable fried catfish kicked off the main feast —not particularly healthy, but oh-so-tasty and unique in demonstrating The Land’s educational vision. From a kid’s perspective, it was fascinating to learn that fish could be “farmed”. Next came plates of succulent chicken or turkey, rich marinated flank steak, creamy mashed potatoes, and mouth-watering vegetables. The menu varied each time, but the result was always a stunning family feast.

Finally, the meal would end with hot steaming cobbler for the adults and—a personal favorite— gummy worms and cookie dirt in chocolate pudding for the kids.

Was it healthy? Not really, but it was rich, sustainable, delicious, and an excellent value both for the price and the character dining experience (particularly considering The Garden Grill is one of the only locations in Epcot to see Mickey Mouse).

Mickey Mouse at Garden GrillImage: JeffChristiansen, Flickr (license)

If the restaurant didn’t impress us enough, in 2014 we visited with two family members who were vegan (some of our favorite recommendations can be found in our recent article about vegan dining at Disney). We were concerned the meal would prove a poor value for them, but the incredible vegan spread the chef produced left everyone at the table salivating-- a massive platter of roasted veggies, healthy grains, and grilled tofu that proved to be even more delicious than the meat-eaters' version. It was such an impressive experience, it became one of our number one recommendations for guests with special diets visiting Epcot.

We came back in February 2017 expecting that not much would have changed. We were wrong.

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There are 14 comments.

For what it's worth, I'm still a fan of the Garden Grill character dining breakfast, but that was never really a place to expect a lot of veggies. I will say, though, that a year ago my Garden Grill breakfast came with two freshly made salsas for use on my eggs (they were delicious), but when I was back in January those salsas were not served. There was nothing from the greenhouse in that meal.

Couldn't disagree more with one of your statements. I've been going to WDW for decades, and was there in the first years of the opening of Garden Grill. It was always supposed to be about healthy eating, highlighting the things they grew in the garden downstairs. For years they served a large bowl of salad made up of fresh greens from the garden, fish farmed from downstairs, and two meats. The food was always fresh and delicious. As little as one year ago they were serving a fantastic vegetarian meal which included several different kinds of veggies, and did not include anything fried or sauced or covered in cheese or gravy. As a travel agent, I often have to talk to chefs in advance about allergies and dietary restrictions. Almost every restaurant at Disney offers a non meat alternative. Its not that hard to do. Even Burger King now offers a veggie burger! To serve up a bowl of mac and cheese, with the cheese being the same kind of concoction that you get poured over nachos at the 7/11, and topped with fish crackers...well that's just laziness. Every single sit down restaurant I've eaten at at Epcot and Magic Kingdom at WDW has had a great non meat option. There's no excuse for charging $50 for a thrown together collection of side mostly carb side dishes at a place like Garden Grill.

I agree..We loved the meal we had at Garden Grill when we visited in January 2014 so much that we made the reservation this past January on the first night of the trip...However, the quality took a noticeable downturn, I agree...the food was decent and tasty, and the staff and overall experience was fine, but I would equate the quality to that of a decent-but-not- great buffet, something that would be maybe 20 or 25 a person in the real world, not $46 (Then again, this is EPCOT, where a $25 steak will set you back $48)

At some point during the cut backs of everything at WDW food quality got hit also. Now some places like the Yatchsman still does not seem to be affected many of the other nice restaurants have. Easily you can tell by the taste and the selections of foods available.
I feel they are dropping back to the 90's when food was mediocre at best. Those days I didn't mind, I was young and poor with a burger and fries being just fine.
These days a nice restaurant reservation is always part of my day at Disney. If the food continues to decline I will visit even less than I used to.
It's very sad seeing Disney turned into what it is today.

As a Annual Pass Holder I have been found g to the parks for several years now and I would agree whole hardly with this article but it isn't just the Garden Grill, its "World" wide! Just today we are at Animal Kingdom and got lunch in Dinoland Reaturant, YUK! Our "All Breast meat". Chicken nuggets were no different then the ines we get at the grocer and they are cold! My Bacon burger was cold as well! Didn't complain, it seemed it would do me no good as all the food around us looked the same. But there has been a Monumental shift in the food quality I the parks over the last year or so and it is Veda's to see the prices go up and things are Not getting better!

This has become the new norm. Disney restaurants have really fallen in quality and prices continue to increase. Who can blame them. The Disney sheep keep coming in masses and keeps clamoring for the horrible meal deal. You pay top notch for sub-prime food and you smile about it. World Showcase is the best example. It used to have unique offerings with top-quality ingredients. Now, everything is boil-in-a-bag and the meat is all the same. Only the sauce is different and it all varies in price! Wow, whoever thought of this is an accountant not someone focused on customer service. Disney has truly lost its way and only care about the almighty dollar. More and more folks are refusing to pay this and are going elsewhere. I know I did just that. Very sad...

I agree with you're article about the food quality. Disney is definitely trying to cut on everything and raise ticket prices for maximum profits. I think in the long run this will hurt Disney and the average family will start looking for other theme parks and vacations spots. I personally had a miserable time this year at the Christmas party because of the $30 ticket increase and 45min-1 hour wait time on every ride (waste of money for being in the park only a few hours). We stayed in Disney with the dining plan but in the future will probably stay off the resort and only visit a couple parks when we go back in the future.

Not to be harsh, but just because they went through an ecoweenie stage doesn't mean they've always been that way or are obligated to stay that way. We used to eat there back before they started the character dining, and while there were farmstyle offerings, there was a lot that wasn't. I couldn't quote you chapter and verse on what we ate every time, but I do remember being comped for dessert because they dropped my husband's pizza and we had to wait longer.

The goodies you got at the end sounds like they are trying out a new menu and they are getting bad feedback. Quality vs. price is always an issue with Disney, and nobody likes being overcharged for mediocre food. I have to admit, though, you bringing up the word sustainable repeatedly flies in the face of that, since in my experience restaurants that flaunt how 'responsible' they are flagrantly overcharge.

It's no secret that Disney hasn't made drastic changes to just about everything in the recent years in order to make Moreno money. Even their quick food establishments have cut portions and downgraded their quality yet keep raising their costs. They even removed their large drink cups and are now calling the medium cups "large" along with keeping the same pricing. It seems they have aimed their sights at attracting guests in higher income brackets now in order to help with the overcrowding issue rather than building more open areas for guests to spread out. I really don't like their business decisions to take advantage of their guests but they know that some people are still going to pay for it because it's "Disney Magic."

That is so sad! It wasn't too long ago I ate there and it was all you can eat and really tasty and unique.

It might be in part because of changes to the greenhouse staff. I went to DW in 2015 and I was enchanted with the push gardens in living with the land. We went back in 2016 and did the behind the seeds tour. The greenhouses were noticeably thin. We asked our tour guide why things looked so much less lush than the previous year and she explained that they had a major staff change and lost a lot of plants. That would affect the availability of fresh greens for the restaurant.

My husband and I LOVE Disney, we regularly vacation there without kids! Unfortunately, the last two trips the food quality has been noticibly lower. We found the fine dining to be the same quality, but the regular sit-down restaurants and the quick-service have been awful. It really changes our perspective when deciding where to vacation- eating has always been a big part of our trip. A low point was when the $10+ plate of nachos at Pecos Bill's didn't come with the cheese! Service has remained the same, but the food is too expensive to be bad, or mediocre. We used to encourage our foodie friends to vacation and eat there way through "the world" but we can't make that recommendation anymore.

Ate at the Gardenn grill on May 9 2017 for lunch and was not what we expected. Ate there in the 90's and the menue changed (not for the better) to all you can eat for $45/ per person way over priced. The food was so so bring a skillet with dry turkey, fatty pot roast, mac and cheese from a box, plain itailian saugage, mashed potatos. The server admitted very few people ask for more food. For 2 adults plus tip over $100 not worth it. My wife and I ate at Jiko restaurant in Animal Kingdom for alittle more money and the food was excellent. For what it is worth I would say by pass Garden grill

Ate at the Gardenn grill on May 9 2017 for lunch and was not what we expected. Ate there in the 90's and the menue changed (not for the better) to all you can eat for $45/ per person way over priced. The food was so so bring a skillet with dry turkey, fatty pot roast, mac and cheese from a box, plain itailian saugage, mashed potatos. The server admitted very few people ask for more food. For 2 adults plus tip over $100 not worth it. My wife and I ate at Jiko restaurant in Animal Kingdom for alittle more money and the food was excellent. For what it is worth I would say by pass Garden grill

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