Calorie Labeling on Restaurant Menus: Should Your Restaurant Provide Nutrition Information?

Many independently owned restaurants are voluntarily adding calorie counts to their menus—should you?

Many independently owned restaurants are voluntarily adding calorie counts to their menus—should you? Image source: Unsplash user Katarzyna Grabowska.

To label or not to label—that is the question restaurant owners and chefs ask me on a weekly basis. With the upcoming May 2018 deadline requiring chain restaurants of 20 locations or more to provide calorie counts on their menus, many independent restaurants are wondering if they too should jump on the labeling train.

Since every restaurant is different, it is hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. While there are benefits of having calorie counts on your menu, it doesn’t necessarily make sense for all of them—financially or practically.

So, to assist you in determining whether or not it is a good idea to provide calorie labeling on your restaurant menus, here is a list of questions to help you discover the answer for yourself. I find that by considering these questions with your restaurant in mind, you’ll either decide to hold off or you’ll feel confident moving forward with calorie labeling.

Questions to Ask When Considering Calorie Labeling on Your Restaurant Menu

How often do you change your menu?

If you have a daily fresh sheet that never features the same menu item twice, it would be a lot of daily work to do the nutrition analysis necessary to obtain calorie counts for your menu items. And if your restaurant relies heavily on the creativity of the chef and local ingredients delivered to your doorstep daily, you wouldn’t really have accurate written recipes to analyze.

However, if your menu generally stays the same, it won’t take much extra work to analyze your recipes and offer calorie counts and/or detailed nutrition information (i.e. vitamins, minerals, etc.). You would only have to analyze your recipes and reprint your menus once, which would keep costs low.

If your menu changes seasonally, it would likely still be worthwhile to perform nutritional analysis on your items, especially since seasonal menus tend to be smaller and thus would require less time and money for analysis. Furthermore, because seasonal menus are reprinted each season anyway, you wouldn’t need to spend additional funds on reprinting menus to include calories.

Are your diners diet-conscious?

This may be a tricky one to answer, but one way of telling if your diners are concerned about their diet is by looking at how often they request substitutions on menu items. Do you get a lot of orders for dry, wheat toast or low-fat yogurt? Are scrambled egg whites or salads with dressing on the side popular? If so, your diners are definitely diet-conscious.

Another way to find out is to talk with your diners, asking them about their views on diet. If you think at least half of them pay close attention to what they eat, it would be wise to include calorie counts on your menu. Calorie information can be instrumental in helping health-conscious diners decide what to order and giving them the information they want about their food choices.

And for diners who aren’t concerned about what they eat, my experience tells me that calorie counts won’t bother them, so you won’t have to worry about your super tasty, high-calorie items becoming obsolete.

Do your diners request nutrition information such as calorie counts or fat content?

If your diners have requested calorie or nutrition information, you know there is a demand for it. Even if they haven’t explicitly asked, it is safe to assume that it’s on a lot of people’s radars. After all, studies show that more than half of the American public is in favor of calorie labeling on menus.

Therefore, don’t assume that only health nuts care about calorie counts and nutrition info. When we consider that Americans eat over a third of their calories outside their home, it stands to reason that people are increasingly mindful about what they eat at restaurants.

People with medical conditions that require a specialized diet may also request calorie counts. For example, more than one-third of America’s adult population suffers from obesity, and many of these people are placed on restricted calorie diets. As such, they rely heavily on calorie counts on restaurant menus to help them stay on track with their health goals and reverse chronic disease.

What kind of budget/funding do you have for calorie labeling?

Including calorie labeling on your menu doesn’t have to be expensive, but it will require some financial output. The good news is, it can pay for itself if providing calories on the menu attracts more customers over time.

No matter the size of your budget, I recommend using an online nutritional analysis software, as this is by far the most affordable option. CD-ROMs tend to have hidden fees and are complex to use, food labs cost upwards of $800 per recipe analysis, and hiring an independent consultant can cost anywhere from $200-$500 per recipe.

Online software like MenuCalc is much more affordable, costing as little as $49 per 10 recipe analyses or $249 a month for an unlimited number of recipes. While you do perform the analysis yourself (unless you opt to have an expert consultant do it for you), it isn’t a big time investment—you can analyze a single recipe in only a few minutes.

Also, keep in mind that if you are not legally required to provide calories on your menu, you don’t have to follow the exact FDA guidelines about where and how your calorie counts appear. This means you can explore some cost-saving options for providing calorie counts, like making a few master menu copies including calories instead of reprinting all your menus.

The Benefits of Calorie Labeling on Restaurant Menus

If you still aren’t sure if you want to provide calorie labeling on your restaurant menu, I suggest signing up for a free trial of the nutrition analysis software of your choice. This way, you can analyze a few recipes to see firsthand how little work it will involve. You could even include the results on your menu or chalkboard for a few weeks to test your diners’ responses. If they give positive feedback about the calorie counts, then you know for sure that it is worth the time and cost it takes to provide calorie labeling on your menu.

There are both pros and cons to providing calorie counts on your restaurant menu, but for most restaurants, the benefits outweigh the costs. Not only will you build trust among your diners by being more transparent about the food you serve, you’ll be doing your part to prevent and potentially reverse obesity and diet-related diseases, and you’ll be meeting the desires of more than half of American consumers. And while I can’t make the decision for you, I will say that it never hurts to give the people what they want.

Ready to take your restaurant to the next level by offering calorie counts or detailed nutritional information? MenuCalc provides user-friendly, affordable FDA-compliant nutritional analysis for all your restaurant’s needs. Contact us today for more information.

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