It is becoming increasingly popular for fast food restaurants to offer healthy alternatives to burgers and fries, like salads, sliced fruit, and fresh pressed juices. This is a smart move because these establishments are listening to their customer’s desires and staying up to speed on current food trends.
In line with offering healthier menu items, many fast food joints are also making calorie counts and nutrition information available. While fast food chains with 20 or more locations are required to do this now that the new FDA menu labeling law has come into effect, some smaller establishments are also voluntarily providing this information to their diners.
Whether you are required to provide this information or you have decided to opt into the FDA’s menu labeling laws voluntarily, I’ve created a guide to calorie counts for fast food establishments. These guidelines should clarify any confusion about calorie labeling for fast food restaurants and help you simplify the process.
Calorie Counts for Fast Food Restaurants: How to Display
The first thing to know about providing calorie counts and nutrition information is that it doesn’t necessarily appear in the same place all the time. While it used to be that calorie counts had to appear on menu boards or menus, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act has changed things a little, depending on the type of restaurant you have.
If your restaurant does mostly takeout, with the majority of people phoning in their orders or placing them online, then you do not need to provide calorie counts and nutrition information on any boards or menus at your restaurant. However, you do need to provide calorie counts on your website’s menu. This, of course, must be done in compliance with the FDA’s regulations. You must also have an easily accessible resource on your website (like a downloadable PDF file or separate webpage) that includes detailed nutrition information (micro and macronutrients) for each menu item.
If your restaurant is primarily a place where people come to sit and eat or if you have a drive-thru, then you must place calorie counts on your menus or menu boards, or whatever document customers order from. Additional nutrition information, in this case, should be made available upon request. Just be sure you let customers know, whether on a menu or menu board, that this information is there for them. The same general guidelines apply whether the calories are listed online or in your restaurant.
If your restaurant has a lot of online takeout orders and a lot of in-house orders, then you are required to have calorie counts on both your online menu and your in-house menus or boards. This ensures that wherever customers are ordering from, they’ll have the information they need to make informed decisions.
Also, keep in mind that it is acceptable to use calorie ranges when it comes to labeling menu items that belong to the same category, rather than labeling each individual item. An example of this would be different types of burgers or different sizes of fries. With such menu items, an accurate range (i.e. 400-600 calories) next to the category heading is suitable.
Obtaining Calorie Counts for Fast Food Establishments
Now that you know what is expected when it comes to providing calorie counts and additional nutrition information, the next step is actually obtaining this information for each of your menu items. There are a few different ways to get this info, but not all are equal—especially when it comes to cost.
Online nutrition analysis software is the most affordable and easiest way to get calorie counts and nutrition info for your menu items. All you have to do is create an online account with a quality, FDA-compliant software, enter your recipes using a USDA-compiled ingredient database, and watch as the calories and nutrition information instantly generates.
Depending on how processed your menu items are, you may also decide to send some of your food to a lab for analysis. While this isn’t always necessary, lab analysis is needed to get accurate results for highly processed or heavily fried foods. For all other menu items, however, database analysis is the best choice. If you aren’t sure whether or not your items should be analyzed in a lab, your best bet is to consult an expert menu labeling consultant, like the ones at MenuCalc. They’ll be able to advise you on the best way to proceed, answer any questions, and even complete the recipe analysis for you if you so desire.
Remember, obtaining calorie counts and nutrition information for your fast food restaurant doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. For the amount of work and money you put into it, the pay-off will be well worth it. After all, in an age where diners expect more and more information about the food they consume, the best thing to do is to simply provide it.