Pros and Cons of Calorie Counts on Menus: Should Your Restaurant Provide Nutritional Information?

Providing calorie counts on menus builds trust among customers and provides information for those with special dietary concerns.

Providing calorie counts on menus builds trust among customers and provides information for those with special dietary concerns. Image credit: Unsplash user Dan Gold.

Jenn, the owner and chef of a small cafe serving breakfast and lunch fare in the Bay Area, knew things were changing. In the past six months, dozens of customers had requested calorie counts for her menu items—something she’d never been asked before in her ten years of business. Thinking it would be smart to give her customers what they wanted, Jenn began exploring the options for performing nutritional analysis on her recipes.

Her restaurant industry friends warned her the nutrition analysis process could be complicated, expensive, and time-consuming. Discouraged by her friends’ bad experiences but determined to satisfy her customers, Jenn found herself unsure whether or not to go ahead with adding calorie information to her menu.

If you’re an independent restaurant owner like Jenn, you may also be wondering if it is a good idea to provide calorie counts on your menu. While it will become mandatory in 2018 for chain restaurants with more than 20 locations to provide calorie counts on their menus, small, independently owned restaurants will not be obligated to do so. For those who can decide for themselves, it is important to consider the pros and cons of using calorie counts on menus so you can make the best choice for your restaurant.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Calorie Counts on Menus

More and more independently owned restaurants are including calorie counts on their menus, especially after the FDA’s delay in enforcing mandatory labeling laws for chain restaurants. A large number of Americans were disappointed with the slowdown, and when small businesses caught wind of the public’s desire for greater transparency from restaurants, many took voluntary action to provide calorie counts on their menus. But some restaurants—especially the ones for whom calorie labeling will be mandatory—were relieved they didn’t yet have to concede.

As a small, independently-owned restaurant, it’s important to be aware of both perspectives so you can make an educated decision about whether to provide calorie counts on your menus.

Some of the benefits of featuring calorie information on your menu include:

  • Building trust among customers: Providing calorie counts on menus signals to customers that there is a level of transparency in your restaurant, making those who are concerned with calorie counts more likely to return and become loyal customers.
  • Aiding in preventing and reversing obesity: More than one-third of American adults are considered obese. Providing calorie counts on menus will make consumers more aware of how much they are consuming and can aid them in their efforts to stick to a restricted or reduced-calorie diet.
  • Meeting consumers desires: A number of consumer reports have consistently revealed that more than half of the American public is in favor of having calorie counts on menus and boards in restaurants. And with this growing interest in health and wellness, we can only expect this number will increase.

Of course, there are two sides to every argument. Many restaurants also complained of the potential drawbacks to putting calorie counts on their menus, including:

  • Limited nutrition information: Calorie counts alone don’t indicate how nutritious a meal is. Some nutrient-rich foods, like nuts and seeds, are high in calories but aren’t bad for your health. Furthermore, healthy whole grains are more calorie-dense than refined grain products. Diners may not consider this when making a selection and could mistake the lowest calorie option as necessarily being the healthiest.
  • Potential financial output: Having dishes nutritionally analyzed can be pricey, especially when using a food lab or independent consultant. Restaurants may also need to reprint their menus and food boards, which contributes to costs.
  • Time investment: If you send your food to a lab, use a labor-intensive CD-ROM software, or contract out to a consultant, it can take up to a month to get nutrition analysis results. The time spent completing this work could take away from important daily tasks.

These drawbacks of providing calorie counts on your menu are valid concerns if you use food labs, independent consultants, or CD-ROMs to perform your nutritional analysis. However, online nutritional analysis software debunks many of these potential downsides.

The Benefits of Online Nutrition Analysis Software

Firstly, while it is true that calorie information isn’t necessarily a good indicator of whether a meal is healthy, online nutrition analysis software provides other extensive nutrition information you can also include on your menu. Software like MenuCalc produces vitamin and mineral values as well as protein, fat, and carbohydrate content. These values are automatically generated along with the calorie count, so you can provide your diners with all the necessary information to make a choice that suits their dietary needs. Nutrient content claims (i.e. low fat) and allergy statements are also generated for each of your menu items.

Secondly, food labs and independent consultants can be incredibly pricey (usually between $400-$800 per recipe analysis), but online analysis software costs a fraction of that price. Software such as MenuCalc typically has a few pricing options to choose from, but a monthly membership that lets you analyze as many items as you want is as little as $249 a month, and much less if you don’t have as many items to analyze. This makes online software an accessible option for independent restaurant owners.

Lastly, when it comes to time investment, there can be a significant turnaround time with food labs and independent consultants. And for CD-ROMs, the ordering, installation, and training it takes to be able to navigate the complex system can really add up. With online nutritional analysis, however, you can set up your account in a few minutes and start entering your recipes immediately. Results are instantly generated, so there is no wait time.

Because it provides extensive nutrition information while being inexpensive and easy to use, online nutritional analysis software is a great choice for independent restaurant owners, like Jenn, who are interested in voluntarily adding calorie counts to their menus. In the end, Jenn did decide to provide calorie and nutrition information on her menus. Thanks to online nutrition analysis software, it was a quick, affordable, and simple process. And since implementing calorie counts and nutrition information on her menus, she’s expanded her clientele and strengthened her existing customer base. I guess you never truly know what benefits you could reap until you try.

Are you ready to take your restaurant to a new level with calorie counts and detailed nutritional information? MenuCalc provides easy-to-use, affordable nutritional analysis to help you satisfy your customers. Contact us today to learn more.

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