Just when our client thought he’d done it all as the owner of a successful restaurant chain in New Mexico and California, the FDA announced their new rule requiring chain restaurants to provide customers with calorie counts and nutrition information.
At first, the business owner didn’t have a clue how he was going to get this information, but after a little research, he found an online nutrition calculator that would help him determine calories and nutrients for his menu items. Eager to get everything finished by the May 2018 compliance date, he purchased the online software and got to work. But after a few hours, he found himself struggling with the technology and wishing he had done more research before committing to a nutrition calculator.
If calorie counts and nutrition calculators are new to you, there are some important things you need to know before investing in one. Finding the best nutrition calculator for restaurants can be tricky, but if you know what features to look for, you’ll be able to choose confidently, knowing it will help you get the job done quickly and easily.
The Nutrition Calculator for Restaurants Checklist
There are a lot of online nutrition calculators out there, but they aren’t all created equal. Some are difficult to navigate, others don’t provide accurate nutrition information, and many don’t give you everything you need in order to comply with the FDA’s guidelines.
So, to save you from wasting money on a faulty online nutrition calculator, I’ve created a checklist of features you should consider when assessing your options:
- FDA-Compliance: FDA-compliant nutrition calculators use database nutrition analysis with USDA nutrition information. Not only does this mean your calorie counts and nutrition values will be accurate, it also means it will generate all the nutrition information that the FDA requires and in the correct format (i.e. in compliance with the FDA rounding rules). Make sure the nutrition calculator specifically states that it is FDA-compliant somewhere on the website so you know it is credible.
- Confidentiality: When you are inputting your restaurant’s proprietary recipe information online, you want to make sure that nobody else will be able to see it. The best nutrition calculators keep your recipes safe by providing you with your own password-protected account and a PCI-compliant site that will encrypt your recipes, making them indecipherable to anyone else. You’ll also want to make sure your recipes are automatically backed up daily and that they can be instantly recovered.
- Ease of Use: Many nutrition calculators are difficult to use, so I recommend checking that the one you choose provides free video tutorials about how to use the software. That way, you can get an idea of how it works before you commit. Plus, they’ll help you a great deal when it comes to performing the nutrition analysis.
- A Free Trial: Even if you have the video tutorials, you don’t really get a good sense of a nutrition calculator until you use it yourself. If the software offers a free trial, take advantage of it! This way, you can test the features first-hand and see how easy it is to navigate.
- Add Proprietary Ingredients Feature: Even the best nutrition databases don’t always have all the ingredients you are looking for, throwing a wrench in your analysis. To avoid this, look for a nutrition calculator that allows you to add your own proprietary ingredients along with their nutrition info. For instance, if you use a certain type of tomato sauce that isn’t in the database, you can add it to the database by entering the name along with the information on its nutrition facts panel. Then, you are free to use it as an ingredient in your recipe!
- Duplicate Function: Many restaurants have different versions of the same recipe on their menu (i.e. wild mushroom risotto, spring pea risotto, and saffron risotto). A duplicate function allows you to make a copy of a recipe without having to re-enter each ingredient, thus saving you a ton of time.
Of course, every situation is unique and depending on your restaurant, certain features may be more or less important to you. Keeping these guidelines in mind, however, should help you find a high-quality nutrition calculator that will make complying with the FDA menu labeling rules quick and easy.
Other Factors to Consider Before You Buy
While the above features are the most important aspects of a quality nutrition calculator, there are a few less tangible elements I’d also recommend looking into before you settle on one. Reading testimonials from other restaurateurs can give you a good sense of how others found the software. Also, talking to a customer service representative and asking questions can help you decide whether that particular nutrition calculator is right for you.
Nutrition calculators aren’t free, so doing your research before committing will ensure you don’t waste time or money, like Jeremiah did. Luckily, though, he ended up purchasing an account with a much more credible, FDA-compliant online nutrition calculator. As such, he was able to finish his nutrition analysis quickly, easily, accurately, and in compliance with the FDA guidelines.
MenuCalc is an industry-leading, FDA-compliant online nutrition calculator used by busy restaurateurs to comply with the upcoming menu labeling law. To get started on your nutrition analysis, contact us today.