In May 2017, FDA guidelines will require nutritional menu labeling for specific kinds of restaurants throughout the United States. Specifically, menus should include calorie information for each item and be prepared to offer additional printed restaurant nutritional data per customer request.
The restaurants that are required by law to comply are…
- 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
However, many restaurants that don’t fall under the requirements are still adding menu labeling themselves. A big reason for this push is the trend of transparency and authenticity in food.
Many consumers want to know exactly what they’re putting into their bodies when they go out to eat. They don’t want to be blind to their own eating choices, especially when they’re not making the food themselves. On top of that, customers want to feel they can trust the businesses they support – being open about what your menu is really like encourages that trust in your brand.
And menu labeling doesn’t mean your calorie-heavy items will get rejected by the masses if you list its restaurant nutritional data – many customers will still order those kinds of dishes, but appreciate the transparency between business and consumer.
If you’re planning to include nutritional labeling in your restaurant’s menu, there are a few ways to calculate those numbers for each dish. What you choose depends on the size of your menu, your budget, and your staff.
Analysis from Nutritional Laboratories
Let’s start with the most thorough route – working with a nutritional laboratory to analyze your various dishes. These are professionals, scientists with extensive backgrounds in testing ingredients who are trained specifically to help provide restaurants with accurate nutritional analysis.
They can also test not just a dish as a whole, but each of the components – so if you want to, say, include how many calories the salad dressing serving is compared to the rest of the chopped salad, a nutrition lab can get you that information. Ideally, this is the choice you’d want to go with, but admittedly it’s also the most expensive (especially if you have a particularly large menu).
If you go with a nutritional laboratory, make sure you have finalized your menu for the immediate future before you go through the process – it’ll be more frustrating if you invest in the services of a nutritional laboratory now and then totally change up your menu in six months.
On top of finalizing your menu, you’re going to have to remain consistent with your suppliers. For instance, if you go to a lab and use a certain brand of tomato sauce for the lasagna you’ve tested, later switching over to a generic sauce brand will change the nutritional value. If you can, go with a company that has a built-in tolerance for such changes.
Also, like with any other vendor or partnership, make sure you thoroughly research the nutritional labs in your area to find one that can meet your requirements and has been found trustworthy by other restaurants.
Computerized Nutrition Vendor
Getting computerized nutrition analysis is a similar but less specialized option compared to lab testing. The computer analysis is still done by a professional who is highly experienced in culinary science. This choice also allows for easier adjustments if you decide to adjust any recipes down the line.
Like lab testing, off-site computer analysis is still on the expensive side – it can be worth it for many restaurants (especially restaurants that fall into these FDA guidelines and need to have their menu labeling up as soon as possible), but make sure to look at your finances to ensure you have the funds to do so.
Going outside your company is often a good idea, but it’s not the only solution to your menu labeling problem. Look at the software you already use in your kitchen! Many software programs for costing out dishes include a nutrition function as well.
The great thing about this is that you can potentially do all nutrition analysis in house, the software itself is relatively cheaper than the earlier options. But be aware that this software does require someone among your staff to be trained in certain areas of culinary nutrition in order to use the program properly.
If you’re choosing to train from your current workforce, this staff member should ideally be within a managerial level position in your business, and their wages should reflect this additional aspect of their job. It’s also important in this case to check with your legal counsel to decide if you should add any conditions to your public position of the restaurant nutritional data.
Some other things to consider
There are also more less accurate ways some restaurants have chosen to calculate restaurant nutritional data information, like going off of the nutritional info mentioned in cookbook recipes. Despite how easy it can be to buy a cookbook (or even just search for a recipe online) and use the listed nutritional information, this is not advisable for a few reasons.
For one, unless you’re already using the cookbook, you’d basically have to change your menu to fit the cookbook in order to accurately reflect the ingredients and amounts. For another, you’d have to trust that the cookbook is offering you accurate nutritional data for each dish (it very well could be wrong).
And finally, you’d have to ensure that your staff is making the recipe exactly how that specific cookbook says to. In general, while it seems like a cheaper way to go about it, it could just be a mess and leave you needing a different option.
Another important note: once you’ve calculated this information and have included it on your menus, it’s crucial that the menu items continue to reflect that information. That means training your kitchen staff to be diligent in consistently making your recipes the same every single time they make a dish. Not only will this ensure you’re telling your customers the right information about what they’ll be eating, but it will also help make sure that your diner gets the right flavors for that dish every time they order it.
Want to be prepared for this cost burden — and a few more coming your way this year? Download our free ebook to find out “What’s Eating at Your Restaurant Cash Flow” and what you can do about it: