Nutrition information on menus is a trend in food service that doesn’t seem to be going away. Legislation is still working its way through Congress that would require menu labeling. In the meantime, New York City has had its own menu labeling law for fast food chains in place for some time now. The question has been, as critics love to point out, exactly how effective is a list of nutrition information on helping consumers make better decisions?
Despite an independent study that found no effect on the amount of calories customers ordered, New York’s study, conducted by the Department of Health, found that the presence of menu labels reduced the number of calories ordered at 9 of 13 fast food chains. Over 22,000 patrons were surveyed at 275 locations over 2 years, about half before the city’s law went into effect and half after.
The New York law is considered a model for other cities and states looking at menu labeling, including California. More than likely, a national bill will mandate labeling for restaurant chains with 20 or more locations at a minimum.
From an independent operator standpoint, menu labeling can seem like an unnecessary expense, and one that is particularly hard to bear after the year the food service industry has had. In general, it’s probably too early for independents to move on menu labeling just yet, but it seems fairly certain that new requirements loom on the horizon.
That doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing. As consumers become accustomed to seeing nutrition information with the meals they order, those labels will be seen as a value-added service provided by the restaurant. That will mean menu labeling will become a fundamental piece of marketing for just about every restaurant, regardless of the segment of the food service industry they occupy.
Like nutrition facts on groceries 20 years ago, menu labeling will start off controversial and meet significant opposition. Over time labeling will become just as ubiquitous as nutrition facts. It’s simply a question of when your restaurant conforms to the trend.