How Independent Restaurants Can Use the Menu Labeling Law to their Advantage

The Menu Labeling Law: How Small Restaurants Can Compete With Chains

Menu Labeling Law

Online nutrition analysis software offers an affordable option for small restaurants to obtain calorie and nutrition info for their menu items. Image source: Flickr user Founding Farmers.

Eating out was something Janet had struggled with for years. Since her diabetes diagnosis, her doctor had instructed her to adopt a restricted-calorie diet in order to lose weight and improve her condition. The trouble was, Janet frequently traveled for work and was forced to eat in restaurants for most of her meals, so it proved difficult to keep track of her calories. Now what was an enjoyable event for most people caused her incredible anxiety.

In order to stick to her diet and improve her health, Janet sought restaurants that provided calorie and nutrition information wherever she traveled. But sometimes, when she couldn’t find a restaurant that offered calorie and carb counts, she’d have to choose a restaurant and guess what items were okay for her diet. Not knowing the contents of her meal filled her with worry that her progress towards better health would be ruined.

Janet is certainly not the only one with this type of story. In fact, more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and more than 100 million are diabetic or prediabetic. In attempts to restore their health, many of these people are on calorie restricted diets and must follow specific nutrition advice. Of course, Americans also eat outside the home an average of 4.5 times a week, and for those who have to count calories or stick to low-carb or low-fat meals, finding restaurants that provide this nutrition information can be challenging.

With the upcoming May 7, 2018, FDA compliance date for the menu labeling law requiring chain restaurants with 20 locations or more to provide calorie counts on menus and detailed nutritional information upon request, these diners will soon have more dining options to choose from. But could this mean that independently owned restaurants that aren’t required to provide nutrition information could miss out on business? Let’s explore this possibility and look at some strategies small restaurants can employ in order to retain business and increase clientele.

The Menu Labeling Law: Implications for Independently Owned Restaurants

Because such a high percentage of the American public struggles with obesity, and diabetes, as well as a plethora of other diet and lifestyle-related diseases, it stands to reason that many people are paying closer attention to what they eat. But those who suffer from health problems aren’t the only ones who watch what they eat. With a growing interest in healthy eating and wellness, even those without health issues often follow special diets or count their calories.

menu labeling law

The menu labeling law empowers dining guests to make conscious decisions about their calorie intake.

If this trend continues—which it almost certainly will— chain restaurants will have a significant advantage over independently owned restaurants that are not required to provide calorie counts on their menus. Unfortunately, many small restaurants may actually have healthier food than most chain restaurants, but diners may increasingly opt for chains simply to have access to the calorie and nutrition information they desire and sometimes need for their medical conditions.

So where does this leave restaurants that aren’t required to provide calorie or nutrition info? Only time will tell just how much independent restaurants will be affected. But for those who don’t want to take the risk of losing out on business or falling short of a growing industry standard, there is an option to voluntarily provide calorie and nutrition information to diners.

Menu Labeling Strategies for Small Restaurants to Retain and Increase Clientele

Since small restaurants typically have much smaller budgets than large chain restaurants, obtaining and providing calorie counts and nutrition information can seem daunting. Luckily, there is an affordable, efficient, and easy way. Using online nutrition analysis software, like MenuCalc, that allows you to perform the nutrition analysis yourself is the best option for small restaurants looking to support diners who may be following special diets.

With online nutrition analysis software, you simply input your recipe using a database of USDA-compliant ingredients. Your calories and complete nutrition information, including vitamin and mineral content, will be instantly generated. In addition to this, the nutrient content claims your menu items qualify for, like low-fat and low-calorie, will also be provided. You can then save all your recipes and results in your confidential account, making it easy to access them and tweak them if need be.

Of course, there are other ways to get calorie counts and nutrition information for your menu items. The problem is, food lab analysis, independent consultants, and CD-ROM nutrition programs are all exceptionally costly, especially for small restaurants on tight budgets.

Marketing Your New Data

Once you have your calorie counts and nutrition information, it’s a good idea to let the public know that you provide this data. You may not know this, but your dining customers are actively looking for restaurants that feature nutrition information on their menu. When the menu labeling law was first established years ago, the reception by restaurants and customers alike was a bit of a culture shock. Now, more and more customers have been requesting nutrition information from restaurants in order to effectively plan meals that suit their lifestyle preferences!  Advertising on your website is a great place to start, as many people who have health concerns search online for restaurants that provide nutrition information. By letting the public know what you offer, you could attract new clients seeking greater transparency about their meals.

Just because calorie labeling isn’t mandatory for independently owned restaurants doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it voluntarily. In fact, providing calorie information has the potential to benefit your establishment and a growing number of American diners, like Janet, by providing them with the information they need to manage their medical condition or to simply make informed decisions about what they eat. And if you can reduce the stress or negative impacts of dining out for even a handful of people, you’ll be surprised by how much potential your business has for growth.

MenuCalc is proud to offer industry-leading, affordable, and user-friendly online nutrition analysis software to help restaurants of all sizes obtain calorie and nutrition information for their menus. To start your nutrition analysis today, contact us.

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