Starting on May 5th of this year, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) was to begin enforcing new calorie listing guidelines related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The FDA’s new listing guidelines mean that qualifying restaurants will have to properly calculate the calories for each menu item.
However, a ruling has come down that extends compliance for yet another year. The new deadline is May 7, 2018.
Calorie calculation can be done a number of different ways, including using a computerized nutrition vendor or hiring a nutrition laboratory for calorie analysis. Which calculation method you choose will depend on how large your menu is, how complicated your dishes are, and what your budget is for this project.
Along with the calculating, the calorie counts must also be clearly printed on the menus next to the correlating items. The calorie counts you list should include any combos. For restaurants with an electronic board menu system, this should be fairly easy because the screen can be edited however you need, although you may need to program a new template to accommodate the information. For restaurants with printed menus that you hand out, this could get more complicated and expensive. This is also a good reason to get the calorie calculations right the first time, since any mistakes will mean redoing your menus again.
What are other aspects besides your main menu will be affected by this? Don’t forget your drive-through menu boards, any salad or hot food bars, and your bakery and ice cream cases. Along with calorie information, the restaurants involved should be prepared to offer additional printed nutritional information to any customers who request it.
However, there are food items that are exempt from labeling under this rule. Products that don’t apply in this case includes:
- Any condiments for general use
- Daily specials
- Limited time offers
- Market test items
- Custom orders
- Any self-service food or food on display that’s offered for less than 90 consecutive days (or less than a total of 60 days within one calendar year)
It’s important to note that these regulations do not apply to every single restaurant in America. In fact, only restaurant owners with a chain of 20 or more locations (with a consistent menu across all of their locations) are absolutely required by law to label their menus with calorie counts under these rules. If you’re at all worried your restaurant might fall under these rules, you will want to double check. That being said, many restaurants may be exempt from the rules simply because they don’t have 20 or more locations.
However, even if you are exempt from these calorie listing guidelines, there are many good reasons to go ahead and start labeling your menu with caloric information, particularly consumer demand for healthy food options. Even if your particular business isn’t required to make these changes, you might want to consider making these changes because:
Many customers will appreciate it.
A growing number of consumers want to be more aware of the food they’re buying and eating every day. This goes especially for food that isn’t being prepared by the consumer themselves, like the food in your restaurant. Since more and more restaurants are choosing to list nutritional information with their menus, consumers are beginning to expect this information displayed as a norm wherever they go to eat. There’s also a level of trust from the transparency that comes with offering this information to your guests.
… But also, some customers won’t care.
A big reason many restaurants have been pushing back against these calorie listing guidelines is because they think they’ll lose sales. They imagine that customers will storm out the door by the droves when they see the calories in each item. However, the effect of this labeling isn’t always drastic ordering changes.
In fact, several studies and reports over the last 10 years have shown that nutritional labeling only influences order changes for some consumers. Many others don’t even notice the calorie information, and those that do might still stick with the order they had in mind. It’s important to remember as well that if you offer lighter options for your menu, your more calorie-minded customers might simply decide to pick those over the heavier options.
The calorie listing guidelines might eventually apply to you.
There’s always a chance these calories listing guidelines will be adapted down the road for a larger range of restaurants. If you’ve already put this labeling into place, you’ll be ahead of the game. And even if these rules never apply to you, nutrition labeling is a restaurant trend we’re not likely to see go away anytime soon across the industry. That transparency will show you’re looking forward for your business, and could very well give you a little competitive edge over the other restaurants in your neighborhood.
Ultimately, nutrition labeling is quickly becoming a normal part of the restaurant visiting experience for American consumers. Even if you aren’t required by the ACA to follow these guidelines, it’s not a bad idea to get ahead of the game.
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