Restaurant Display Calories: Understanding the FDA Guidelines

With menu labeling compliance fast approaching, it’s important that restaurateurs and chefs know exactly how their restaurants should display calories and additional nutrition information.

With menu labeling compliance fast approaching, it’s important that restaurateurs and chefs know exactly how their restaurants should display calories and additional nutrition information. Image Source: Unsplash user Kevin Grieve.

Something I hear from people in the restaurant industry a lot is that the FDA guidelines can be confusing and hard to follow. And with the upcoming menu labeling law coming into effect on May 7, 2018, I’m sensing a lot of confusion and frustration about what exactly is expected from restaurants when it comes to displaying calories on their menus.

In order to clarify what the FDA is asking for, I’m going to break down the expectations around how a compliant restaurant displays calories so that everyone understands how calories and additional nutrition information must be presented to the public. My goal is to keep things as simple as possible so that you feel motivated to get started on the work required for compliance.

Restaurant Display Calories and Nutrition Information for Menus

If you have a sit-down restaurant where diners most commonly use menus to order their meals, you’ll need to display calorie counts on your physical menus. If your customers typically order from your website (as would be the case with a pizza delivery place), you will need to provide calorie and nutrition information on your website. In either case, each of your menu items needs to have an accompanying calorie count, but if you have a series of menu items that are variations of the same thing (i.e. pizzas), the FDA permits the use of a calorie range for the entire category, rather than individual calorie counts for each item. This is a recent change under the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act. These ranges should be listed next to the heading for that series of menu items, i.e. “Pizzas (700-850 calories).”

When figuring out how to display the new information on your menu, menu board, and/or website, make sure that the calorie counts:

  • Appear alongside the menu items they accompany (or next to the price)
  • Are prefaced with the word “Calories” or “Cal” to indicate what the number represents
  • Use the same size, color, and boldness of font as the menu item name

You’ll also need to include a written statement on your menu, menu board, and/or website that gives context to the calorie counts. For example, it should read something like, “2,000 calories a day is regarded as general nutrition advice, but calorie needs may vary per person”. This way, people have a frame of reference for interpreting the calorie information.

When determining how to display this on your menu, board, or website, keep in mind that this statement must:

  • Appear wherever calorie information appears (i.e. the bottom of a menu board, menu page, or webpage)
  • Be highly visible and legible
  • Use the same size, color, and boldness of font that is used for the calorie counts

Guidance for Presenting Additional Nutrition Information

Of course, you’ll also need to provide diners with detailed nutrition information, including standard micro and macronutrient information for each menu item, if they request it. This doesn’t need to be on your main menu or board, but it should be in a separate booklet in your restaurant that is easy to hand out to customers if needed. It’s a good idea to put it on your website in case people are ordering online and won’t have access to a hard copy.

There are a lot of different ideas for organizing and presenting nutrition information, but I’d recommend keeping things as simple as possible—think laminated pages, a neat binder, and section dividers. Also, make sure you have multiple copies so that if more than one diner requests the info at a time, there is enough to go around. You don’t want to upset the flow of your service because people are waiting on the nutrition information booklet.

Obtaining Nutrition Information Before Compliance

If you haven’t yet completed nutrition analysis for your menu items, it’s a good idea to get started. With the deadline for compliance fast approaching, you don’t have a ton of time, but luckily online nutrition analysis software, like MenuCalc, makes it easy for you to get everything done as quickly as possible.

Online nutrition analysis is different than other kinds of nutrition analysis, like food labs and CD-ROMs, because you don’t need any special equipment and you do the analysis yourself. Once you’ve created an account, you can get started with your analysis right away by entering your recipes using a database of pre-analyzed ingredients. Each recipe should only take you about five minutes to complete, and you’ll get faster as you get used to the process.

As an added bonus, the best nutrition analysis software will offer expert consulting services. We include this feature at MenuCalc, with a registered dietitian on hand to answer any questions and experienced consultants who can perform the analysis for you. This is a great feature if you run into any trouble with completing your nutrition analysis, have further questions, or don’t have the time to complete all the analysis yourself.  

Using online nutrition analysis software allows you to be ready for compliance in no time, and you can easily analyze your entire food and beverage menu before compliance. The only foods you won’t be able to use online software for are deep fried foods, so if you have any on your menu, I suggest you send those to a food lab as soon as possible. The rest can be done with online analysis, though.

My hope is that breaking down how restaurants are expected to display calories and additional nutrition information has made the process of menu labeling compliance a little bit less intimidating and a lot more clear. As long as you follow this simple guidance, your establishment will be ready for May and your menus, boards, and website will be perfectly compliant.

MenuCalc is an affordable, accurate, and user-friendly online nutrition analysis software that helps restaurateurs and chefs get ready for menu labeling compliance. To learn more, contact us today or try our free 15-day trial.

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