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Views and opinions about food
Update: Mondavi and Rancho del Zocalo
So how is the Mondavi complex doing at Disney's California Adventure? It's been a few months since the Park opened, and Spring Break is here, so let's check back with the Mondavi complex.
If you recall, we chronicled here how the Mondavi complex was having trouble meeting its revenue goals in the early days of DCA, and even started laying off some of their employees.
Well, in a nutshell, things have started looking better for Mondavi, but not by too much. The Spring Break crowds are indeed driving more attendance through DCA, and Mondavi is seeing some increased traffic. The sunnier weather of the past month has also helped the bottom line.
The Sunday of the Spy Kids premiere was a particularly busy day at DCA, because of thousands of invited guests, and Mondavi had some of its best sales on that warm day. Wine sales were, for once, at a level consistent with expectations. Tables were crowded in the areas around the Wine Bar, an otherwise not too common occurrence. At lunchtime, there were several parties in both the Terrace Room and the Vineyard Room - a positive sign.
Mondavi has also relaxed its policy about the "prix fixe" (fixed price) menu. Formerly, patrons ordering the four- course meal in the Vineyard Room would have to settle upon common dishes, for everyone in the party had to eat the same thing. While this is still encouraged, perhaps even strongly encouraged, it is now possible to argue your way into different dishes per person.
The Terrace Room has expanded its selection of appetizers and food offerings, most now offered "a la carte" instead of as part of a packaged wine- and- cheese deal. It continues to see more business than the pricey Vineyard Room.
The Terrace Room, still largely un-used
Both locations may suffer from the fact that the dining areas are hidden from public view. When you're down below, you can't tell if anyone else is up there. No one wants to be the only one eating. Any restaurateur will tell you that a small line leads many passers- by to join the line, while no line at all often leads to virtual invisibility to the location. Mondavi needs such a hook.
While sales are improving, there are certainly signs that things are still not quite as rosy as originally desired. The Deli recently rolled out newer, lower- priced sandwiches. However, these sandwiches are also smaller. The rationale was that Guests were supposedly not looking for a full meal, so sales had suffered. Smaller sandwiches at a slightly smaller price is therefore the attempted fix. Is it working? Not too well; sales are still sluggish in relation to expectations. The problem was not perceived size - it was perceived value. And if the price per ounce of food is high, it doesn't matter whether you're talking a large portion with large price, or a small portion with smaller price: the price is still too high and the value is not there.
The vaunted vineyard, designed to grab people's interest and hook them into visiting the compound, is still a no- show. In its place are numerous colorful flowers. These look pretty at least!
The Vineyard Room menu posted at the base of the restaurant now includes several types of four-course meals: one for the meal with no wine ($36 at dinner), one for the meal with California wines ($50 at dinner), one for the meal with District wines ($65 at dinner), and one for the meal with Reserve wines ($85 at dinner).
Those prices are per person! This attempt to tinker with the menu by adding high- end dining options strikes me as misguided. The winery had few crowds initially because of the high prices, not because there weren't enough opportunities to spend money. These new offerings are not going to tempt anyone new into the location who was previously unconvinced before.
The usually un-crowded Vineyard Room
Most ominously, the winery has no crowds to speak of in the evenings, even during the Spring Break peak holiday season. A Friday evening visit revealed but a few guests in either the Terrace Room or the Vineyard Room. This was after the normal dinner-rush hours, but the restaurant was still open and clearly had hopes for higher patronage than this. The wine bar was open, but deserted of any customers. As a rule, DCA is slower in the evening than during the day, but Mondavi can't be happy with this level of revenue.
Remember that Mondavi committed $12 million to building the complex with the expectation that two of every seven DCA guests would spend money at Mondavi (and that was with the assumption that DCA would enjoy maximum attendance of 38,000 per day, which it hasn't even come close to doing). If this keeps up, I wonder if we may not see abbreviated operating hours for the Vineyard Room, shunting what few diners there are over to the Terrace Room. Could Mondavi become a daytime-only restaurant? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, across the esplanade at Disneyland, Rancho del Zocalo has also started doing things a bit differently. If you recall from my initial report of this new restaurant, there were some serious issues with the service style of this scramble- service location. Most notably, the lack of signs above the service counter led to confusion about the formation of lines and much cross-yelling to get dishes sent to the other side of the room.
I'm pleased to report that Rancho now has signs above the confusing Mexican- food side of the restaurant. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought they would help!
But, I'm sorry to say, the signs do not completely eliminate the problems facing this location. The idea is for guests to be greeted upon entering and guided, based on menu desires, into the left- side line for tacos and tostadas, or into the right- side line for burritos. The wider middle zone isn't a line; it's the exit area for both lines.
Well, human nature being what it is, folks crammed into all areas, and you end up with three lines. Back to Square One, right?
Not entirely. Management has come up with another stopgap measure: a layer of hosts / hostesses who deal with ordering the food for the Guest, and delivering it to them as they stand at the head of the line. Think of it as a buffer zone of five feet between the counter and the line, in which only the CM's move around. Confusion is thus reduced.
As you can see in the picture above, guests are required to stand at the head of the line, deliver their order, and wait there with a tray for the dishes to arrive. This effectively removes the confusion of the old system, but is very labor-intensive, and frankly not all that efficient. This is a state- of- the- art Disney dining facility?
As proof, let me offer my Friday night experience. It was 9 p.m., Fantasmic just began, and the Spring Break crowds were mostly concentrated in the show areas for Fantasmic or the Believe fireworks show. We got into the Tacos line, with about four or five parties ahead of us.
Twenty minutes later, we were still in that line, though second from the front. The hostess assigned to our line had disappeared for five of those minutes (an unofficial bathroom break?), but even without that, fifteen minutes is too long. I can state with certainty that we would move customers through the old- fashioned trayslide buffeteria at Cafe Orleans in less time. The French Market can move almost 400 guests per hour through its dual lines. And yet this new restaurant, designed to be faster than the buffeteria it replaced, could not move 15 people through in 20 minutes.
On top of that, the multiple stations offered by a Scramble System still offer challenges for a party that has split desires. If a father is to get his children one taco, one burrito, and one order of ribs, should he stand in three lines? At those wait times, it would take him one hour to get all that food.
It should be noted that I do not blame the CM's. They were all working themselves really hard (with the possible exception of our disappearing hostess). Nor do I fault onsite management with attempting to come up with a partial fix. It's the system which is flawed here - it's inherently confusing and much more cramped than any previous Scramble Service restaurant at Disneyland.
And I'm happy to report that the fish tacos, once I got them, were deliciously spicy and wonderful.
One final and somewhat disturbing note about Rancho. On Friday evening there were mats and "wet surface" cones lining the walkway up to the restaurant. Was there a water main broken somewhere?
Watch your step - it's wet, apparently
Following the trail of slowly dripping water, it was easy to see what the problem was: there was liquid dripping out of a hole in the wall at the nearby women's restroom.
A "water" leak at Rancho del Zocalo
In the picture you can spot the wooden board used to cover the spot; obviously there's an ongoing problem here. I didn't investigate whether the liquid dripping was fresh water, or um... "gray" water. I was hungry, and part of me just didn't want to know.
This was a restaurant, after all, where things are assumed to be clean.
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