How to comply with the menu labeling law for calorie posting

Do you operate more than 20 locations?  Have you gotten your calories posted on your menu? By calculating the nutrition analysis for restaurants, you will be in compliance with the FDA Menu Labeling Rule. But what does “calorie counting” mean, and how does it apply to your restaurant? Read our comprehensive menu calorie labeling law white paper below, and learn more about this FDA rule:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires menu labeling for restaurants to disclosure the nutrition information for standard menu items in certain restaurants and establishments. Restaurants chains with 20 or more locations must provide calorie and other nutrition information. This applies to standard menu items, including food on display and self-service food. Providing nutrition information, including the calorie content of foods, in restaurants enables consumers to make informed dietary choices.

Who is affected by this menu labeling rule: 

  • Quick-service establishments
  • Pastry and retail confectionary stores
  • Coffee shops
  • Snack bars and ice cream parlors
  • Establishments within larger establishments that are part of a chain (i.e. a café in a bookstore)
  • Grocery stores Convenience stores Vending machines Movie theaters

The menu calorie labeling law defines “covered establishment” as a restaurant or similar retail food establishment that is part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name (regardless of the type of ownership, e.g., individual franchises) and offering for sale substantially the same menu items, as well as a restaurant or similar retail food establishment that is registered to be covered under the rule.

The business is considered a restaurant or similar retail food establishment if:

  1. The business presents itself as a restaurant publicly; – OR –
  2. An establishment that offers for sale restaurant-type food. What is “Restaurant-Type Food?”
  3. Usually eaten on the premises, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location.
  4. Served in restaurants or other establishments in which food is served for immediate human consumption or which is sold for sale or use in such establishments.
  5. Processed and prepared primarily in a retail establishment, ready for human consumption.
  6. Offered for sale to consumers but not for immediate human consumption in such establishment; and which is not offered for sale outside such establishment.

Foods that generally would be considered restaurant-type food:

  1. Food for immediate consumption at a sit-down or quick service restaurant.
  2. Food purchased at a drive-through establishment.
  3. Take-out and delivery pizza; hot pizza at grocery and convenience stores that is ready to eat; pizza slice from a movie theater.
    Hot buffet food, hot soup at a soup bar, and food from a salad bar
  4. Foods ordered from a menu/menu board at a grocery store intended for individual consumption (e.g., soups, sandwiches, and salads).
  5. Self-service foods and foods on display that are intended for individual consumption (e.g., sandwiches, wraps, and paninis at a deli counter; salads plated by the consumer at a salad bar; cookies from a mall cookie counter; bagels, donuts, rolls offered for individual sale).


Content for Alcoholic Beverages:

  • Covered establishments have significant flexibility in choosing a reasonable basis for the nutrient content of alcoholic beverages.
  • The USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (database MenuCalc uses), includes ingredients such as:“alcoholic beverage, wine, table, red,” “alcoholic beverage, wine, table, white,” among several other general categories for alcoholic beverages.
  • Consistent with the FDA’s treatment of other standard menu items, restaurants will be allowed to use the standard alcohol categories as the bases for the nutrient content of alcoholic beverages that are standard menu items.

Additional information for alcoholic beverages:

  • When declaring the calories in a beverage that is not self-service, you must state thenumber of calories in the full volume of the cup as served without ice unless you ordinarily dispense and offer for sale a standard beverage fill (i.e., a fixed amount) that is less than the volume of the cup per cup size or dispense a standard ice fill (i.e., a fixed amount of ice per cup size). If you ordinarily dispense and offer for sale a standard beverage fill or dispense a standard ice fill, you must declare the number of calories based on such standard beverage fill or standard ice fill.
  • For self-service beverages sold from a beverage dispenser or fountain, you must declare the total number of fluid ounces in the cup in which the self- service beverage is offered. When there are different sized cups, you must also describe the size of the cup, such as “140 calories per 12 fluid ounces (small).” Calorie and other nutrition information for self-serve drinks are based on the total number of fluid ounces that the cup can hold.
  1. The final rule covers alcoholic beverages that are standard menu items that are listed on a menu or menu board.
  2. Alcoholic beverages that are foods on display (e.g.,bottles of liquor behind the bar used to prepare mixed drinks)and are not self-service foods are not subject to the new requirements.
  3. Cocktails, wine, beer, and spirits that are listed on the menu such as a “Bloody Mary” and “White Wine” are to show their associated calorie content.

What is required to comply with the menu calorie labeling law?

On the menu/menu board, each of the following must be provided to your guests: 

1. Calories per standard menu item:

  • Must have the same contrasting background color as the name of the listed menu item;
  • Must be in the same size and typeface as the name OR price of the item listed on the menu/ menu board, or whichever is smaller;
  • Must include the heading“Calories” or “Cal,” either for a column listing calories or adjacent to the number of calories stated with the menu item;
  • Rounding rules are consistent with the NLEA rounding rules and are already programmed into MenuCalc.

2. A succinct statement concerning suggested daily calorie intake to read: “A 2,000 calorie daily diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual needs may vary.”

  • This statement needs to be no smaller than the smallest type size of any calorie disclosure on the menu, and be in a color and have a background that is as conspicuous as the calorie information on the menu;
  • This statement should appear at the bottom of the menu board, or at the bottom of each page of a menu.

3. Statement of availability of additional nutritional information to read: “Additional nutrition information available upon request.”

  • Must be in a type size no smaller than the smallest calorie disclosure on the menu, with the same prominence;
  • Should be listed at the bottom of the first page of the menu below the succinct statement, or at the bottom of a menu board below the succinct statement;
  • For menus with more than one page this statement should be at the bottom of each page OR on the first page with matching asterisks for each calorie value.

4. Additional nutrient information to be available upon request by your guest:

  • Calories from Fat
  • Total Fat
  • Saturated Fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total Carbohydrates
  • Sugar
  • Dietary Fiber
  • & Protein

The above nutrition information may include counter cards, signs, posters, handouts, booklets, loose leaf binders, electronic devices, menus, or any other form of written material.

Special Cases:

  1. A standard menu item is an item that is routinely listed on the menu, and includes everything listed for sale for the item on the menu. This can include combinations and variations of a singly listed item;
  2. Multiple servings – even if items listed are assumed to be shared, the nutrition information for the item needs to be listed for the entire item, regardless of number of servings the item was meant to contain;
  3. For cases where the diner has choices that will affect the calorie information about the menu item, the calorie information should be listed as a range of the minimum to maximum possible calories available:
    • When declaring calories as a range, must use the format “xx-yy.” Where “xx” is the caloric content of the lowest calorie variety, flavor, or combination, and “yy” is the caloric content of the highest calorie variety, flavor, or combination.
    • Combination meals – menu items that contain more than one food item offered for sale together;
    • Variable menu items–items listed as one item that is available in varying flavors or sizes.

Self-Service Foods – food on a buffet line designed for self-service:

  • Calories per serving (corresponding to the scoop size or piece/unit size) must be displayed on a sign or tag adjacent to the food item. The type size must be no smaller than the name of the item on the tag or the price;
  • Self-service beverage dispensers must also include calorie information;
  • Food on display – when food is displayed in a case with a sign/food tag displaying the name and price of the item, the calories should be listed on that sign in similar typeface;

When complying with the menu calorie labeling law, What is considered a menu?

  1. The primary writing of the restaurant that the diner uses to make a selection. This may take multiple forms including menus, menu boards, to go menus, online menus if food can ordered online;
  2. Drive-through menu boards are also included;
  3. Foods on display and self-service items need to be labeled with a food tag.

What foods/menu items are exempt?

  1. Test items listed on the menu as part of a market test for less than 90 consecutive days per location;
  2. Temporary menu items that appear on the menu as specials for less than 60 days out of the calendar year (do not need to be consecutive)
  3. Condiments and other items placed on a table for general use and not listed as part of any menu items on the menu
  4. Custom orders

Posting for Combo Meals/Ranges:

  • If offering a number of flavors or varieties for standard menu items (e.g., ice cream) or ways that a standard menu item may be prepared (e.g. baked or fried), restaurants must list the calories separately for each flavor or variety listed.
  •  If your menu or menu board does not list each flavor or variety for an entire individual variable menu item and only includes a general description of the variable menu item (such as, “soft drinks,” “ice cream”), the calories must be declared for each option with a slash between the two calorie declarations where only two options are available, or as a range where more than two options are available.
  • If more than two options are available, then you must declare the calories as a range, such as 450-550 calories. If less than two options are available, you must declare the calories for each option with a slash between the two calorie declarations, such as 450/500 calories.
  • When the menu or menu board lists two options for sides in a combination meal, you must declare the calorie counting difference for the increased or decreased size using a slash between the two calorie declarations, for example, “adds 100/150 calories,” or “subtracts 100/150 calories.”
  • When the menu or menu board lists three or more options for sides in a combination meal, you must declare the calorie difference for the increased or decreased size as a range, for example, “adds 100-250 calories,” or “subtracts 100-250 calories

Additional Nutrition Information for the menu calorie labeling law:

1. Additional nutrition information, such as calorie counting, for each menu item must be made available upon request to the diner. These must include the following nutrients: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Carbohydrates, Sugars, Dietary Fiber, and Protein.

  • If a menu item contains more than half (6) nutrients with insignificant nutritional values, those values can be omitted from the listing. This must also include a statement that reads: ”Not a significant source of ___.”
    • An insignificant source is defined as zero for all nutrients except for carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and protein for which the threshold is >1 g.
    • This statement should appear below the nutrition facts for this item.
  • For combinations and variations for singly listed menu items, the additional nutrition information for each individual item in the combination meal must be listed separately. This also applies to each variation or topping of a variable menu item. In cases where excessive combinations and variables can be made, calories for the base recipe can be listed with individual listings for variation.
  • If variations of a menu item have the same nutritional content they do not need to be listed separately (i.e. peach and raspberry iced teas can be listed as “flavored iced teas”);
  • This information may take the form of a counter card,
    sign, poster, handout, loose-leaf binder, booklet,
    electronic device, or anything else that allows diners
    to see that additional information is available upon request.


Multiple-Servings for a Standard Menu Item:

  1. In the case of multiple-serving standard menu items, the calorie declaration must be for the whole menu item as listed on the menu or menu board. This must apply to the way the restaurant prepares the item and offers it for sale (e.g., “pizza pie: 1600 calories”).
  2. Or per discrete serving unit as long as the discrete serving unit (e.g., pizza slice) and total number of discrete serving units are declared on the menu or menu board. This applies to items usually prepared and sold in discrete serving units (e.g., “pizza pie: 200 cal/slice, 8 slices”).


1. Restaurants must ensure that nutrient declarations for standard menu items are accurate and consistent with the specific basis used to determine nutrient values.

  • They must ensure that the method of preparation (e.g., types and amounts of ingredients, cooking temperatures) adheres to the factors that determine their nutrient values. This is also required of proportions for standard food items. Failure to comply with the rule will render the food misbranded.
  • In terms of enforcement, the FDA states upon request, that restaurants must provide information substantiating nutrient values including the method and data used to derive these nutrient values, as well as two statements:

What the FDA will want to see from restaurants, having to comply with the menu calorie labeling law:

  • A statement signed and dated by a responsible individual, employed at the covered establishment or its corporate headquarters. This individual must be able to  certify that the information in the nutrient analysis is complete and accurate.
  • A statement signed and dated by a responsible individual employed at the covered establishment certifying that they have adhered to the factors that determine nutrient factors regarding methods of preparation  (e.g., types and amounts of ingredients in the recipe, cooking temperatures, cooking methods). This also applies to the standard menu items offered for sale.
  • Restaurants are required to show proof of the reasonable basis and documentation of nutrition analysis upon request during an inspection by the FDA.


1. A standard menu item offered for sale in a covered establishment” would be “deemed misbranded under sections 201(n), 403(a), and/or 403(q) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act if its label or labeling is not in conformity” with the requirements for nutrition labeling and determination of nutrient content outlined previously.

2. Food shall be deemed misbranded when either: a. Any word, statement, or other information required by or under authority of this Act to appear on the label or labeling is not prominently placed thereon with such conspicuousness (as compared with other words, statements, designs, or devices, in the labeling).

Determining Nutritional Content:

In order to be compliant with this law, nutrition information must be established by means of reasonable basis. This includes: nutrient databases like MenuCalc; consulting services offered by MenuCalc, cookbooks; laboratory analysis and nutrition labels from product packaging.

Menu calorie labeling law compliance date: 

This law came into effective May 7th 2018, but was paused due to COVID. Now back in 2022 the rule is re-instated. 

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