Restaurant Menus Start To Count Calories

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Mar. 11, 2013 12:00 am  

Capi Peck

In September, McDonald’s Corp. of Oak Brook, Ill., became the largest fast-food chain to post on all its menus just how many calories were packed in its Big Mac — 550 — and other items.

McDonald’s decision comes before the Food & Drug Administration will require all restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie and nutritional information on their menus.

The FDA hasn’t settled on its rules and doesn’t have an estimated date for when restaurants will be required to list the information, according to an FDA spokeswoman, although some expect the FDA will have the requirements in place within six to 12 months.

The move has been applauded by nutritionists, who say it could help customers trim calories from their diet, but it has caused anxiety among some restaurant owners who fear the government might require all restaurants to post the information.

“It’s viewed with disdain” in the industry, said Capi Peck, a co-owner of Trio’s Restaurant in Little Rock and a vice president of the Arkansas Restaurant Association.

She said small restaurants couldn’t afford to hire dietitians and nutritionists to determine just how many calories were in each menu item. “It’s so cost-prohibitive it’s ridiculous,” she said.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it wouldn’t cost that much to determine the nutrition content on a menu, maybe $15 to $20 per item.

Still, Peck said, smaller eateries make frequent menu changes. “It would pull the reins in on a lot of creativity if we knew we were required to have all that nutrition content” on the menu, Peck said.

Studies have shown that when calories are listed, customers tend to trim about 30 calories from their restaurant visit. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but over time it can add up.

Wootan said it doesn’t appear that restaurants that post calorie information see a drop in revenue because customers are still buying — they’re just shifting their choice from Coke to Diet Coke.

A spot check of McDonald’s food and beverage receipts in the Little Rock area didn’t suggest any particular sales trend, up or down, after the calories were posted in September.

It’s difficult to say if the requirement of posting calories will trickle down to the small, independent restaurants. But once the information becomes standard in chain restaurants, the public may demand to how many calories they are consuming at all restaurants, said Debbie Pate, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

Pate said the ACHI wasn’t lobbying for the menu requirements for all restaurants, and the current state Legislature doesn’t have any bills pending on the issue.

Peck said that when the issue had been mentioned in past legislative sessions, restaurant owners had rallied to block new requirements.

“We would call everybody we knew, begging them not to do it,” she said. “It’s an expense that we wouldn’t be able to stand.”

Mark Friedman contributed to this report.

 

 

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