Which Restaurants are Required to Post Calories? An FAQ for Menu Labeling Compliance

Chain restaurants with 20 or more locations are now required to post calories on their menus.

Chain restaurants with 20 or more locations are now required to post calories on their menus. Image source: Unsplash user bady qb.

Since the May 7, 2018, menu labeling compliance date, I’ve been getting more questions than usual. Interestingly, I’ve been talking with a lot of small restaurant owners who are unsure whether or not they have to post calories on their menus too.

I can definitely understand how they feel. There’s a lot of hype around menu labeling compliance in the United States right now, and when you hear so much about it, you may feel as though you might be missing an important detail or doing something wrong. Nobody wants to get in trouble with the FDA, after all. So, in hopes of giving everyone some peace of mind that they are on the right track (or helping them correct course if they aren’t), I’m going to answer some frequently asked questions, like “Which restaurants are required to post calories?”, and more.  

While this FAQ is by no means exhaustive, it does include useful links that will likely provide answers to many of your questions. If you don’t find what you are looking for here, be sure to check out our MenuCalc blog or speak with one of our expert menu labeling consultants. Without further adieu, let’s get started with our FAQ!

Which Restaurants are Required to Post Calories?

Chain restaurants, cafes, grocery stores, and convenience stores with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name that sell restaurant-style food are required to provide customers with calorie and nutrition information. This doesn’t mean smaller establishments can’t provide calorie information, though.

Establishments not legally subject to menu labeling can opt-in to menu labeling. If you decide to opt-in, you can simply fill out an FDA menu labeling form and mail it to the FDA. Keep in mind, though, that if you do this, you will be subject to the same rules and regulations as the other restaurants. If you are wondering if your small restaurant should provide nutrition information, I’ve written a helpful piece about questions you should ask when considering calorie labeling on your restaurant menu.  

How Should Calories be Posted?

If you are still unclear about how calories should be posted, I’d recommend checking out my guide for posting calories on menus. Essentially, though, make sure you have a calorie count for each of your menu items (or a calorie range for a series of similar items). This will either be posted online if customers primarily order food from your website or on your menus or menu boards.

At the very least, calorie counts should be:

  • Listed next to the corresponding menu item or price.
  • Written in the same size, color, and boldness of font as the menu item.
  • Easy to read and easy to spot.

How Accurate Do My Calorie Counts and Nutrition Information Need to be?

The FDA had highly specific rules about accuracy, but the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act now allows for a margin of human error. While it is important that your calorie counts are as accurate as possible (which means you’ve used a reputable form of nutrition analysis, such as online software like MenuCalc), you won’t be penalized for being off by a few calories here or there.

Keep in mind, though, that the FDA can request information that substantiates the calorie and nutrition values you provide. For this, you must include the data from your nutrition analysis and disclose the method of analysis you used. You will also be asked to provide two documents: a statement written and signed by a responsible employee at your establishment who can verify that the nutrition and calorie information is accurate and a statement saying that the method of preparation and the portion size of each menu item served in the restaurant has not been altered since the analysis was done.

How Do I Know I am Ready For Compliance?

Complying with the FDA’s guidelines for menu labeling can be overwhelming, so I recommend going through this compliance checklist. I also suggest checking your work against the FDA’s guidelines. Instead of spending hours trying to find the right documents, however, I’ve put together a resource guide for restaurants with all the important FDA information you need to ensure you are labeling your menu properly.

The last thing you are going to want to check is the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, as it outlines the important updates that have been made in the past few months with regards to calorie ranges, displaying calorie counts, and the 90-day compliance window.

Are There Any Consequences For Making Mistakes With Menu Labeling?

If you make any mistakes in the labeling of your menu, whether it is with your calorie or nutrition information, and the FDA notices, you will be sent a letter detailing your mistake and asking you to take action to fix it. Luckily, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act has granted establishments a 90-day compliance window, which means you will have approximately three months to fix the error. If you fail to fix your mistake, however, you may receive a fine.

I hope this FAQ has helped clarify some of the questions you have about menu labeling compliance. It is a busy and overwhelming time, but with all the hard work behind you, you’ll get to see how customers respond to having calorie and nutrition information at their fingertips. My guess is your customers are going to be pretty thrilled, which will make all this work incredibly rewarding.

MenuCalc is an online nutrition analysis software used by members of the restaurant industry to prepare for menu labeling compliance. To ensure your establishment is compliant, contact us today or check out our free 15-day trial.

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