Big changes are coming to restaurants in America next year. A new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule will require certain kinds of food service establishments to display their calories for each menu item. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was originally signed into law in 2010, the food labeling requirements related to that legislation have been debated, reevaluated, and pushed back repeatedly until last year, when it was decided the rules would take effect in December 2016 (although the exact date has not been determined yet). Not complying with the regulation could lead to serious consequences for your business — including weighty fines — so it’s important you understand the rules and whether or not you’re at risk for non-compliance.
First off, does the ruling as it stands today apply to your establishment? Ask yourself: Is your business…
- A restaurant or similar retail food establishment?
- Part of a chain of 20 locations or more?
- Doing business under the same brand name as those 20+ locations?
- Offering a consistent menu across all locations?
If you said yes to all of these, your business will be required to include food labeling on all menus and packaging starting in December 2016. The FDA has provided examples of potentially affected items pertaining specifically to those businesses with 20+ locations:
- Meals from dine-in establishments
- Foods purchased through a drive-through window
- Meals delivered or carried out, such as pizza
- Foods, such as made-to-order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
- Foods consumers serve themselves from a salad or hot food bar
- Muffins or pastries sold at a bakery or coffee shop chains
- Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
- A scoop of ice cream, milk shake, or sundae from an ice cream store
- Hot dogs or frozen drinks prepared on site in a convenience or warehouse store
- Certain alcoholic beverages
It’s important to note that an exception to these new rules exists. As stated, “certain foods purchased in grocery stores or other similar retail food establishments that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require additional preparation before consuming” may be exempt. These include multiple pounds of deli meats, cheeses, or large deli salads.
If you’re nervous about what this could mean for your business, be aware that there are also some benefits for franchises who fall under this regulation. Labeling your menu items means the dishes will have to be made the same way each time to be accurate to the calories on the menu. Each location will have to follow the recipes more closely, leading to more consistently made dishes and more consistent flavors. The franchise brands that thrive tend to have reputations for high quality, consistent meals for every guest and every visit. Consistency in dishes also means more consistent food costs, which will help you better budget for the restaurant.
Food labeling requirements do not go into effect until late next year, so it’s important not to panic. Your business has the benefit of time to plan ahead and start implementing changes now. It’s much better to be ahead of the game than to be found in violation of these rules down the line because you hesitated or delayed action. Even if your restaurant has a form of food labeling in place now, it’s important to make sure your current system complies with these new rules.
And even if your restaurant is exempt from or otherwise not required to start food labeling next year, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start planning for the future. Perhaps consider labeling your menu to highlight your gluten-free products, vegetarian and vegan dishes, healthier items, etc. Today’s market trends lean towards nutritional transparency (as does consumer expectation), so it’s better to get on board now while you have time to execute carefully and on budget.
What guests need to know
So, what data is required to be published under the new regulations?
Calorie information for each of your standard menu items need to be printed onto your menus and menu boards. If you have any self-serve foods or food on display, those areas will also need signage that feature calorie information.
Suggested Daily Caloric Intake
Your menu and menu boards should also have a short statement about how general nutrition calls for 2,000 calories a day, but this number could vary depending on your specific health situation. As examples, if the guest is a child they might need less calories, while if they’re an adult athlete they’ll probably need more. If the menu board in question is targeted specifically to children, the suggested caloric intake should reflect it (1,200 to 1,400 calories a day for children 4 to 8, 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day for children 9 to 13, keeping in mind these values can vary).
Additional Written Information
The menu and menu board should also mention that the following nutritional information about each menu item is available upon request:
Calories from fat
What You Need to Do
First and foremost, we suggest hiring a food scientist to calculate the nutritional values of your dishes. Originally, these scientists would burn the food and measure the raised water temperature to determine calories, but now most use an indirect method called the Atwater System that focuses on average values for different types of calories, fats, fiber, protein, alcohol, and more. However, the FDA suggests that nutrient databases, the nutrition facts label on packaged ingredients, and your recipes’ cookbooks can also be used to determine nutrient value. In all of these cases, you’ll have to substantiate your calculations with the FDA. That’s a lot easier to do with documentation provided by a specialist.
Next, you’ll need to reprint your menus (or menu boards) to include the calories next to each item, and printed copies of that additional nutritional information so it’s easy for your staff to hand out to customers requesting it.
Training your staff in these new rules (especially what to do if a guest asks to see the full nutritional information of the menu) is highly suggested. If you have a website, we also recommend putting your updated menu and nutritional information up online. Putting your best foot forward will not only ensure you’re compliant (if necessary) in plenty of time, but will also offer your guests the added benefit of transparency and trust in your brand and food.
For more information, check out the FDA’s ruling in full.
Preparing your restaurant for your guest’s health expectations doesn’t stop at menu labeling. Explore how to get your kitchen ready to deal with customer allergies and special orders: