Restaurants Warming Up to Menu Labeling

Lost among the shuffle of discussions and litigation regarding more contentious aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148) since its passage were provisions requiring restaurants to label menus with calorie counts.

The FDA issued two proposed regulations in 2011 that would ensure calorie labeling on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machines with 20 or more locations. The proposed regulations would require calories to be disclosed on all menus and menu boards clearly and prominently. Fast forward to 2013 and many restaurant chains have already preemptively begun the process of calorie disclosure.

An unintended, but waist-friendly outcome of the labeling changes is that restaurants are starting to offer smaller portions in a stark move away from the practice of piling more food on a plate than anyone needs in a single meal. According to a New York Times article, the move to smaller portion sizes, as well as calorie labeling,  has not had the detrimental effect on restaurants’ bottom lines as feared. While smaller portions and diversified menus are not necessarily cheaper, lower-calorie menus have been noted by businesses as increasing sales.

Pressure from customers desiring healthier food options when eating out over the last decade, coupled with the rising costs of some core food products for businesses, have resulted in restaurants voluntarily diversifying their menus to attract customers. More vegetarian options and lean meats can be found on offerings from sit-down restaurants to the fast food giants.

In a report by the Hudson Institute, a public policy organization, restaurant chains that included servings of lower-calorie foods and beverages saw increased same-store sales growth, customer traffic, and gains in overall restaurant servings. Additionally, increasing lower-calorie menu portfolios was observed to help quick-service and sit-down restaurant chains improve their bottom line.

Whether restaurants are adopting diversified menus because of impending regulations or focus on their economic growth, the general public’s appetite for lower-calorie offerings is clearly being addressed.