Why Independently Owned Restaurants Should Provide Calorie Counts on Their Breakfast Menus

Could including calorie info on your breakfast menu help your restaurant?

Could including calorie info on your breakfast menu help your restaurant? Image source: Unsplash user Constance Chen.

I was talking with a friend recently about trends in the restaurant industry. As a chef and owner of a little restaurant in the Bay Area, she stays abreast of the changes in her profession. She told me that she started providing calorie information on her daily breakfast menu a few months ago. When I praised her for the wise decision, she smiled and said, “I’m just giving my diners what they want—even if they aren’t yet aware they want it.”

My friend is a smart woman. With the revised May 7, 2018 deadline requiring all restaurant chains of twenty or more to provide calorie information on their menus appearing on the horizon, she’s taking a proactive stance—even though her small restaurant won’t be required to provide calorie information.

If you work in the restaurant industry, you know how competitive it is. Let’s look at why providing nutritional information on your breakfast menu—even for independently owned restaurants—could provide you with that edge needed to stay on top of industry trends.

Experimenting with Calorie Counts

I’ve worked with enough chefs to know that suggesting they provide calorie counts on their menus is typically received with some skepticism—and rightfully so. You want people to enjoy the food for what it is—the amazing ingredients, the flavor combinations, and the artistic touch—not for how many calories it has.

But here’s the thing—times are changing. Diners want to be informed about the decisions they make when eating at restaurants, and pretty soon, chain restaurants will be required by law to provide some transparency. Diners will come to expect calorie content on menus.

The great thing about owning a restaurant that isn’t part of a chain is that you aren’t legally required to provide this info, so you can pick and choose when and where you want to disclose it. My friend chose the breakfast menu because, in her experience, this is the meal that people are more health-conscious about. Many diners look for lighter options, and the calorie count gives them a better idea as to which items fit their needs.

The Questionable Impact of Calorie Counts on Consumers

A common concern about providing calorie content is that diners will not order high-calorie options and that those dishes—no matter how delicious—will become obsolete. But we still don’t know for sure that providing the calorie count of an item actually influences diners’ decisions.

One study showed that less than 50% of Seattle diners who were provided with calorie counts used that information to inform their menu selection. In efforts to combat obesity and help the American public make healthy food decisions, the FDA may want us to think twice about ordering a high-calorie dish—but whether we actually do that or not is still unclear.

It is important to keep in mind that just because calorie counts may not always influence a diner’s menu choice doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable to them. The more the public sees calorie counts on menus, the more they will come to expect it. And as a general rule, Americans are becoming more aware of their eating choices and demanding greater transparency when it comes to food. But in this case, awareness doesn’t necessarily lead to action—meaning you needn’t worry about having to change your entire menu once your diners become aware of the calorie counts.

Because you have no legal obligations to provide calorie counts on your menu, you are free to do a little experimentation. Assess your breakfast items for calorie amounts, put them on the menu, and see how diners respond. Do the lower calorie meals start selling like hotcakes? Or is your pulled pork eggs benny still your most popular item? Do you receive positive feedback for providing calorie info on your breakfast menu? Do you see an increase in customers? Doing this kind of research for your specific customer base can be extremely beneficial for your business.

The Ease of Online Nutritional Analysis

Once upon a time when food labs were the only option for nutritional analysis, many chefs shied away because the huge expense and time commitment made it simply out of reach for independently owned restaurants with limited resources. Now, online nutritional analysis software allows for quick, easy, and affordable options to cater to a restaurant’s individual needs. Plus, you can even do the analysis yourself.  

Not only does MenuCalc’s software provide the calories in a given dish, it creates a whole nutrition facts panel detailing carb, protein, fat, vitamin and mineral amounts—which comes in extremely handy for diners with specific dietary needs. It also allows you to tweak ingredient amounts in your recipe to alter the calorie content, and it provides a secure place to store and backup your recipes. MenuCalc also saves you time by allowing you to create proprietary ingredients, so your signature hollandaise sauce can be selected with a single click rather than entering all the ingredients again for each of the dishes you use it in.

Keeping Your Restaurant Current

The chefs who really stand out are the ones who make it their mission to stay current, keep their customers happy, and experiment with new ideas for improving their restaurant. The restaurant industry will begin changing rapidly, and so will diner’s attitudes and expectations. Even if you aren’t legally required to do so, providing calorie counts can help you stay up-to-date as diners begin expecting greater transparency about menu items. And it seems only fitting that this new frontier in the restaurant industry starts with the most important meal of the day—breakfast.

Are you ready to take your restaurant to a new level by providing calorie counts on your menu? Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, MenuCalc provides FDA-approved nutritional analysis for all your restaurant’s needs. Contact us today to learn more.

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