Menu Labeling and Alcohol: Do I Need Calorie Counts for Alcoholic Beverages?

Online nutrition analysis software makes getting calorie counts for your beverage menu quick, easy, and affordable.

Online nutrition analysis software makes getting calorie counts for your beverage menu quick, easy, and affordable. Image source: Unsplash user wu yi.

Derek was thrilled. Finally, he had received the nutrition information for his menu items from his private consultant in preparation for the upcoming May 2018 deadline requiring chain establishments of 20 locations or more to provide calorie counts on their menus. He felt a great sense of accomplishment as he slipped the new menu sheets into their protective covers.

But before he could finish, his bartender approached him and asked if the drink menu needed calorie counts, too. Immediately, Derek was brought back down to earth―he’d never even considered that their list of signature cocktails required calorie labeling as well.

For whatever reason, it’s all too easy to forget that drinks also need to have listed calorie counts. Derek certainly isn’t the only one to have overlooked his beverage menu. Luckily, though, there is still time before the FDA calorie labeling deadline so you won’t get in trouble if you don’t have calorie counts listed on your drink menu yet. To clear up any confusion around menu labeling and alcohol, I’m going to walk through what exactly needs to appear on your drink menus in order to comply with the FDA’s guidelines.

Menu Labeling and Alcohol

Generally speaking, the same calorie labeling guidelines that will apply to food menus will apply to drink menus too. This means that any alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink that is listed on a menu or menu board must have an accompanying calorie count.

If you have daily drink specials or feature cocktails that are listed on your menu for less than 60 days, however, you are not required to provide calorie counts for those. Likewise, custom orders do not need calorie counts. Beverages that are “on display” and aren’t self-serve are also not required to have accompanying calorie information. An example of beverages that fall under this category would be beers on tap that aren’t listed on the menu.

For the remaining beverages on your menu, you are expected to provide:

  • Calorie counts based on the full volume of the cup without ice, unless you always use a certain amount of ice and a measured volume of beverage every time.
  • Calorie amounts listed next to the drink item in a font that is the same size, color, and prominence.
  • A statement somewhere on the drink menu that puts calories counts into context (i.e. “2,000 calories per day is general nutrition guidance, but calorie needs vary”).
  • A written statement on the menu stating that detailed nutrition information in written form is available upon request. (Note: beverages that have at least 6 of the required nutrient values declared as zero may use a standardized simplified format to denote nutrition info).
  • A calorie range if beverages are listed under a general category (i.e. Import beers: Pilsner Urquell, Stella Artois, Sapporo—160-200 Calories).

Of course, for more detailed information you can take a look at the FDA’s general guidance for industry.

How To Determine Calorie Counts for Alcoholic Beverages

A common question I get about calorie labeling for alcohol is what to do if calorie information isn’t provided on the beverage. For example, small beer and wine producers are often exempt from having to provide calorie counts on their packaging, so restaurants don’t have accurate info to put on their menus.

While many people think this means they must have such beverages sent to a food lab for analysis, this isn’t the case. The quickest and most affordable way to get an accurate calorie count is to use an online nutritional database and find the calorie count for a similar product. In fact, some online nutritional analysis software, like MenuCalc, has reputable, USDA-approved nutrition databases that will provide this information.

Of course, you can also use online nutrition analysis software to determine the calorie counts of your mixed alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. All you have to do is enter the recipes using the ingredients found in the database and select the serving size, then the calorie counts and nutrition information will be instantly generated. Just make sure you use a software that allows you to add proprietary ingredients to the database. This way, if the database doesn’t contain some of the ingredients you use in your beverages, you can simply add them in yourself.

Luckily, Derek decided to use online nutrition analysis software to obtain the calorie and nutrition information he required for his beverage menu. Not only was it quick, easy, and affordable, he was able to make changes to the beverages very easily every time the bartender tweaked the recipe. Plus, he felt confident knowing that all of his top-secret signature cocktail recipes were safe and secure in his password-protected online account. And perhaps best of all was that when the May 2018 deadline rolled around, he was able to rest easy knowing he had completed all the necessary steps.

MenuCalc provides user-friendly, affordable FDA-compliant nutritional analysis for all your restaurant’s needs—including your beverage menu. Contact us today for more information.

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