After several deadline delays, the restaurant calorie counter guidelines as established by the Affordable Care Act are being officially enforced as of May 7, 2018.
The regulations are specifically for restaurants with 20 or more locations (that have a consistent menu across all of locations). The hope is that by making these restaurant calorie counter regulations standardized nationally, it will be easier for businesses — especially those with locations across multiple states — to know they’re complying with the rules. It also allows consumers to see consistent enforcement of these rules.
Per the regulations, your restaurant will need to calculate accurate caloric information for your various menu items, then clearly print out the calorie counts on all menus next to each item. You’ll also need to include a combined calorie count for any combos.
If you offer printed menus, you’ll need to completely update them. Your drive-thru menu, hot food bar, bakery menu, and delivery menus should also be updated. For digital menus boards, you should be able to adjust the information with little to no cost to you.
And there will still be items you serve that don’t apply to these regulations. The most common food items that don’t fall under the restaurant calorie counter rules are:
- Daily specials and limited time offers
- Customized orders
- Any self-service or on-display items offered for a limited time (less than 90 conservative days and less than 60 days in one calendar year)
- Any condiments put out for general use
If your restaurant falls under these guidelines and you haven’t started following them, you should get that settled as soon as possible. Here are some things to keep in mind as you finalize your restaurant calorie counter information:
See it as an opportunity.
Consumers are looking for more transparency regarding the food they buy and consume. The changes you make to adhere to these restaurant calorie counter policies bring that transparency customers want to see. While few diners will come in specifically because you are providing nutritional information, it’s definitely a value add to their dining experience that customers looking to order more conscientiously will appreciate — and should definitely impact their likelihood to return.
But beyond the benefits in driving return visits, going through a restaurant calorie counter process could be a benefit to you as an operator as you update or overhaul your menu. If you’re already updating your menus with caloric information, it’s better to adjust your overall menu choices now — whether as a seasonal change or to highlight new dishes — rather than having to change the menus once again down the line.
Something else to think about: have you received customer comments about menu items being too heavy or rich? If you’ve never checked the calorie count of your menu items before, it could be a wake-up call that you need to add lighter items to your menu. Not everyone wants a heavy meal all the time, and if customers who want healthier options didn’t get that from your restaurant (whether or not you’ve labeled the calorie counts), they might not come back for a second visit.
This is just as much about you understanding the food you’re selling as it is letting your customers know what goes into what you’re serving.
Keep up with documentation.
It’s important that your restaurant consistently document calories per ingredient, and not just for the final menu items. Is your staff using a written recipe, or are they just guesstimating measurements? Are the written recipes the same you used to calculate the calories? If there are caloric changes to your supplier’s items (for instance, they switch your canned tomato sauce to a brand with higher sugar levels), that needs to be documented and then adjusted in the final calorie count per serving.
Crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s when it comes to menu labelling will protect you down the line if any official questions if you’ve been following the rules. Just like with your health inspections, follow the letter of the law and keep all restaurant calorie counter documentation to back it up.
Consider going one step further.
While the federal regulations are only for calorie counts at this point, we are seeing more and more consumers looking for transparency in other dietary information when picking the restaurants to dine in.
If you’re already changing your menu displays to feature calories, it might actually save you money down the line to include other dietary information like sodium, fat calories, or grams of carbohydrates now. Even if you don’t want to include these extras on the actual menu, you can calculate and print out a chart of other nutritional facts like sodium, fats, and any common allergens that could be available upon request. For customers with dietary restrictions, it can be a real relief when restaurants are accommodating their needs. It’s as much a matter of good customer service as it is about the food itself.
It’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you’ve already labeled your menus (either in anticipation of the earlier deadlines or just as a courtesy to your calorie-minded customers), congrats!
But before you take a sigh of relief, it’s a good idea to double check the regulations and then compare them one last time to what you’ve already done. Since some significant time has passed since the restaurant calorie counter provision was included in the ACA, just being sure you’ve hit all the requirements of the menu labeling rules is wise. Yes, changing your menus after already updating them wouldn’t be fun, but it’s better than thinking you were following the rules only to end up in violation.
Want to use menu changes to drive more profit to your bottom line? Download our free eBook “How to Use Restaurant Menu Design to Increase Your Sales” today!