Why Provide Nutrition Information?

As most of us know menu labeling laws only affect larger chain restaurants, but I am getting a lot more clients who are smaller chains and even independents. In an industry that vigorously fought menu labeling, why now are so many operators starting to provide nutrition information voluntarily. I thought up and researched a few reasons, and now I’d like to share them with you:

Compliance. The recently passed of the health care reform bill, only affects restaurant chains with 20 or more locations (roughly 250,000 total locations).

Awareness. As more multi-unit and independent restaurants start complying with menu-labeling laws and general concerns about healthy dining increase, consumer demand for nutrition information has also increased. I find that a lot more restaurants are speaking openly about nutrition information. They can see it coming and instead of shying away from it, they are curious about its benefits and impact on their operation. More tradeshows are having whole sessions surrounding nutrition information, healthy eating, and marketing to the health conscious diner. These sessions did not really exist one or two years ago, and now you will most likely find at least one, if not two, speakers on the topic at any given show.

We’ve all read the study completed by the National Restaurant Association’s 2009 Industry Forecast, which says researchers found that three in four adults say they are trying to eat healthier at restaurants than they did two years ago.

Marketability. Providing nutrition information opens a level of marketability that will allow you to reach out to new customers. I’ve seen a lot of restaurants select several healthy menu items from their menus to provide nutrition information for instead of the entire menu. This provides their customers with options for healthy dining and conveys a sense of nutritional responsibility. This is a new era for our industry, a time to broaden our diner audience. I read in the New American Diner survey from Restaurants & Institutions that 82% of diners said calorie disclosure is influencing what they order, and 60% said it determines where they eat. Using social media platforms such as Yelp and Facebook can really help restaurants make the most of their analysis results.

Increase in Sales. A study performed by the University of Missouri found that customers were willing to pay up to $2 more per menu item for healthier menu items when nutrition facts were present. As a Registered Dietitian it’s great to see companies providing this information to diners, but to know that people see true value by paying more is even better!

Why would or why wouldn’t you post nutrition information for your diners?

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  • Great points Brian. You're right in that even if restaurants do post nutrition information, it doesn't exactly mean that the people who need it will look at it, or for that matter know what it means. The F&B industry isn't a big fan of government regulations and restrictions, so I think it will be a long while (if ever) that we see limits imposed on the nutritional value of meals, but providing information in the first place is a big step. Now it's up to the educators (i.e. Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign) to get people looking at these numbers and caring about them.
  • I think restaurants absolutely should. You could look at it as consumer awareness or transparency, but it started with HEALTH CARE REFORM. HEALTH. (If someone can sue Mcdonalds over a cup of coffee they didn't know was supposed to be hot or sue the tobacco industry cause they "didn't know" cigarettes were bad for you, I think it's only a matter of time before someone tries to sue their favorite restaurant for making them fat.) But lets look at the "Health" perspective overall. Without turning this into an 8 page rant or a college thesis or a statistic lecture on the general health and obesity of America, people are getting fatter, lazier, and people don't want to take responsibility for their own actions. They want to blame 800 calorie frappuccinos, the accessibility of fast food and vending machines at the office, and the lack of time to get to the gym. Yet these are the same people that get 3 baskets of bread when they go out to eat, FRIED appetizers, bleu cheese dressing for their salad, then order dessert. I mean, I could go off in 9 different directions on a lot of different arguments. Where are the restaurants responsibility in this? Do we have to pass legislation saying no entree anywhere can not be over x many calories? Do we we empower F&B establishments to be able to say no to the 300 pound guest when he wants a fried chicken dinner with extra gravy? Do we offer gym memberships at cheaper rates to obese people as a way to entice them into the gym? Do we put calorie counters on the drive thru screen so anytime you order a big mac meal large size with a coke you know it's x many calories? Having calorie content available is one thing, but that doesn't mean people still look at it. It's usually hidden in the very back of the menu. Do we need to actually print on the menus right next to the menu name the calorie content? In addition to everything else your server gets to act as, do we also get to act as your doctor now?
    What about the cost of health insurance? What about giving healthy people a discount on their rates? You are a non-smoker with a gym membership with cholesterol and blood pressure in check, you pay less. You're a hundred pounds overweight and need an armless chair at a restaurant or an extended seat buckle on the airplane, you pay more. Lets take the concept of car insurance companies and how they make their rates, and apply it to health care.
  • Providing nutrition information demonstrates a spirit of transparency. If restaurants really want to take it a step further, they also provide information about how ingredients are sourced. For many consumers, this is becoming an absolute must.
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