Posting Calories on Menus: Tips for Organizing the New Nutrition Information

Posting calories on menus to comply with the FDA’s menu labeling laws can be daunting, but staying organized with how you implement the new information can really help.

Posting calories on menus to comply with the FDA’s menu labeling laws can be daunting, but staying organized with how you implement the new information can really help. Image source: Unsplash user Ian Baldwin.

With less than three months before the FDA menu labeling deadline, restaurants are getting ready to roll out new menus complete with calorie counts and nutrition information. But before menus and boards can be printed, you have to figure out how to organize and present the new information.

The FDA gives guidance about where and how the information should appear, but there is still some confusion and uncertainty about the best way to go about posting calories on menus. If you are struggling with your menu or menu board layout, keep reading because I am going to share my best tips for organizing and presenting the new nutrition information so it is as clear as possible for your diners.

FDA Guidelines for Posting Calories on Menus and Menu Boards

As of February 6, restaurants are no longer required to post calories on menus and menu boards, as long as they are posted on the restaurant’s website. If you are still interested in posting them in your restaurant so that your diners have easy access to this important information, here are the FDA has guidelines for what, where, and how this information must appear. If you do decide to post the information online, the following guidelines still apply.

The FDA requires that you provide customers with the following three pieces of information:

  1. Calorie information for each of your menu items. For menu items with several variations (ie. different types of pizza), a calorie range is appropriate, rather than including exact calories for each type. The calorie amounts must be prefaced by “Calories” or “Cal” to give context.  
  2. A nutrition statement denoting the recommended daily caloric intake that diners can use as a frame of reference (i.e. “2000 calories a day is general nutrition advice, but calorie needs may vary”). This must appear wherever you post the calorie information.
  3. A statement on the menu, menu board, or website notifying customers that additional nutrition information is available upon request.

Of course, the FDA has particular instructions for how the above information should appear. For calorie counts, make sure they are:

  • Next to the menu item or price.
  • In a font size no smaller than the font used to list the menu item or price.
  • In the same legible font color as the menu item or price.

For the nutrition statement information denoting the recommended daily caloric intake, be mindful that it appears:

  • Easily legible (i.e. not hidden or blurred).
  • In a font size no smaller than the font used to display calorie counts.
  • In the same font color as the calorie counts.

The additional nutrition information made available to customers upon request must be printed using a legible font and must include accurate nutrition information for the following categories:

  • Total calories
  • Calorie from fat
  • Total fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Sugar
  • Protein

Ideas for Organizing and Presenting Nutrition Information

Now that you know what information is required, let’s explore some ideas for how to organize and present this information.

Calorie Counts

As you can probably tell from the above guidelines, there isn’t much room for creativity with this one. You can’t use wacky colors or fun fonts. However, these suggestions are worth considering before you reprint your menu or change your website:

  • Declutter Your Menu: Since you are adding more information to your menu, it can start to look a little cluttered. I suggest tidying it up so your menu is aesthetically pleasing and does not overwhelm your customers. If you have menu descriptions for each item, try trimming them down to 10 words or less. I am a big fan of listing key ingredients or flavors rather than using full sentences. This way, the addition of the calorie information will be more prominent and your menu will have a simpler, cleaner look.
  • Watch Your Formatting: Keeping the calorie information clear for customers will not only be easier for them, but it will also make your menu look nicer. I suggest aligning the calorie counts so they appear in a column down one side of the page. This way, diners can easily compare calorie counts and won’t have to work too hard to find the information.

Nutrition Statements

I recommend that the nutrition statements—including the statement with recommended daily caloric intake and the statement notifying customers of the additional nutrition information—both appear at the bottom of the menu (either online or on your physical menu). If your menu has multiple pages, you may want to include them at the bottom of each page, although it isn’t necessary. I like the statement to be centered and italicized, but this is just a personal preference. Just be sure it is easy to read.

Addition Nutrition Information

The information that customers can request if needed can be presented in a number of ways. Here are a few good formats:

  • A Booklet or Binder: Since you will likely have multiple pages of nutrition information, it is a good idea to keep it all together in one booklet or binder. Not only is it easy to flip through, it will protect pages and ensure they don’t get lost or dirty.
  • Laminated Pages: I also recommend laminating the pages presenting the additional nutrition information. You could also use page protectors, but remember that the pages can be removed and moisture can still get in (drinks have been known to spill, after all). With lamination, the pages stay in good shape and you won’t have to worry about reprinting them.
  • Multiple Copies: I suggest you have more than one copy of the additional nutrition information on hand so that more than one diner can view it at once.
  • Simple Format: It’s best to keep the formatting of this additional nutrition information simple. Listing the required values for each dish just as they are in the above section works well, but consider bolding the actual values so they are easier to see. If you have a large menu, you can use dividers to separate the sections so the information is easier to find. Or, if you decide to include this information online, separate out the sections with a drop down menu.  

To obtain this additional nutrition information, as well as the calorie counts, I suggest choosing an FDA-compliant online nutrition analysis software that will provide all the required information. Not only will this make the process of complying with the FDA’s guidelines more affordable, but it will make the whole process quicker and easier.

Hopefully, these tips will give you a better sense of how to implement the FDA’s guidelines so the new information is clear for your customers. It can be overwhelming to incorporate the new information onto your menus, boards, or website, so if you have questions or need help, reach out to a menu labeling expert consultant. They’ll be happy to help you navigate the process and can guide you if you run into any problems. That, in fact, might just be my best advice of all.

MenuCalc is an industry-leading online nutrition analysis software that prides itself on helping restaurants obtain calorie counts and nutrition information for their menus affordably, quickly, and easily. To connect with one of our expert consultants or to set up an account, contact us today.

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