This isn’t a new topic – to me, the healthy living blogging community, or society as a whole – but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve been diligently (and less than diligently) tracking my Weight Watchers points: availability of restaurant nutritional information.
Laws in place in New York require calorie counts be on the menus at restaurant and fast food chains. (I’d completely forgotten about this until we were at Applebee’s in NYC! I was actually confused by nutrition information on the menu until I remembered it was required by law.) There have been studies that show it doesn’t have a huge effect on people’s selection – about one in six people use the calorie information and select lower calorie options.
Truth be told, the majority of the time when I’m going out to eat, I’m not really trying to be healthy. No matter how healthy you try to be at a restaurant, it’s still not going to be as healthy as something made at home. It is what it is. Generally, we eat out at most once a week. I consider this my splurge meal, and I’m going to get what I want. Having the calorie count on the menu isn’t likely to dissuade me from ordering what I want unless it’s absolutely ridiculous. That said, I still want to be able to track my food and assess the “damage” I’ve done.
I appreciate the laws that require restaurants to include calorie counts on their menus and signage, but what I would really like to see is a shift in the restaurant industry to readily providing more healthy options and easy access to complete nutrition information. I don’t even necessarily care if it’s on the menu. There are plenty of other ways to make nutrition information available to your customers without making it “in your face” which is another complaint I’ve seen about calories being posted on menus.
- Provide a booklet at each table – like the dessert or drink menu – listing all the nutrition information. If the customer is interested it’s at their disposal. If they’re not, they can ignore it.
- Make it easily accessible on your website by a downloadable PDF – the key here is easily. Don’t make the customer dig around for it or request it from you. (I’m looking at your Buffalo Wild Wings!)
- Even better, provide “meal builder” function on your website. Panera posts calorie counts on their menu boards, but their website has a feature that allows you to determine the complete nutritional information for your entire meal, and it’s fully customizable. If you substituted your bread, you can swap it out in the meal builder tool; did you leave off the sauce? You can subtract those calories quick and easy.
- Electronic kiosks with the nutrition information are another option. I believe au Bon Pain has these, but I could be wrong.
In any case, don’t tell me I can’t have it. (This statement was originally directed at Friday’s, but I just discovered they now provide complete nutrition information on their website. Kudos!) I understand that for smaller restaurant chains and family owned restaurants providing nutrition information can create an additional burden, and in this case, I can generally estimate. However, large national chains have no excuse. Plus, refusal to provide me with nutritional information makes me wonder what they’re hiding.
What do you all think? Is the availability of nutrition information important to you? Was it important to you before you shifted to a healthier lifestyle? Would/ do you let nutrition information dictate your choices at a restaurant? Do you think if in your face nutrition information became the norm people would think about it more, or do you think that would make it so common place it would be just as easy to ignore as if I weren’t there at all?
I’m really curious. It seems like such a simple idea – provide people with information about what they’re eating, but a lot of people seem to get really bent out of shape over it. It also wasn’t something I gave much thought to prior to 2009. I knew eating out meant high calorie dishes, but I never realized that some of those desserts (my beloved brownie sundaes!) often contain an entire day’s worth of calories!