Calorie Labeling on Menus: Do They Help or Hinder Your Restaurant Sales?

 In Industry Trends Blog Archives

Viewpoints about whether or not to include calorie counts on menus are a mixed bag among U.S. restaurant owners, health and nutrition experts, legislators, and consumers.

While some believe the information to be valuable in helping restaurant consumers make healthier eating choices, others believe it has little or no impact on their ordering choices, and still others think it’s actually a deterrent to consumers’ dining out enjoyment.

Currently in places like California, New York City, Portland and Seattle, calorie labeling on chain restaurants is actually the law. And although President Obama signed calorie labels into law when he signed the health care act more than three years ago, the FDA has still not issued rules for them because of pushback from some non-restaurant establishments, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, that don’t want to have anything to do with the law.

But regardless of where you stand on the issue, does having calorie information on menus make any difference in consumers’ food choices? Well the answer really depends on who you ask. Let’s examine a few different viewpoints.

Yes, calories listed on menus are a good thing:

Many nutritionists, health experts and health-conscious consumers, believe it is definitely helpful because it empowers consumers to make healthier eating decisions while dining out, which for many people happens several times a week or even daily. For instance, one recent study conducted at restaurants on the Oklahoma State University Campus found that consumers who received menus with calorie information consumed fewer calories, on average, than those who ordered from menus without any calorie information disclosed.

It doesn’t matter because consumers will still order what they want:

Others feel that the information has little or no impact on what consumers order because people will still order want they like to eat, regardless of knowing how many calories are contained in a particular menu item. Unlike the Oklahoma State University Campus study mentioned above, several other studies suggest putting calories on menus really doesn’t make a difference, such as one recent yearlong study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, which found that consumers at one fast food chain in the Seattle area were unfazed by calorie counts listed with their favorite menu items.

No, listing calories on menus is not a good idea:

Then there’s the group that does NOT want to see calorie information on menus. Some restaurant owners believe it to be negative information overload for their customers who would rather enjoy themselves than worry about how many calories they are eating. And many consumers, on the other hand, feel guiltier if they know how many calories they are consuming (more so among women than men, not surprisingly).

But regardless of where you stand on this issue, the best way to appeal to both your health- conscious, and not so health-conscious, customers is to offer menu items that will satisfy their different needs. And in general, using the highest quality and freshest ingredients possible will win their favor, whether they are calorie counters or not.

What are your thoughts? Will you be adding calorie counts to your menu?

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