Nutritional Labeling Concerns for Restaurants

New FDA labeling requirements affect restaurants that have 20 or more units, but local regulations or customer expectations make supplying transparent information about nutrition important for every restaurant. Even if you just own one small, neighborhood restaurant, it’s important to recognize that consumers want more information about what they eat. You can offer nutritional information in various ways that your customers can easily access to comply with the letter and spirit of the new guidelines.

What the Legislation Covers

More than 250,000 restaurants around the country are affected by the FDA’s new labeling guidelines. Based on changes to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and The Affordable Care Act, the guidelines require that restaurants with 20 or more locations provide nutritional information for regular menu items including calorie counts by December 1, 2015. Further changes for 2015 and 2016 are mandated by January 1, 2018. Details of the labeling requirements include:

  • Calorie information must be listed on menus and menu boards.
  • Other essential nutritional information includes recommended daily caloric intake, total fat, saturated fat, calories from fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, sugar and protein content.
  • The information must be available in writing.
  • Restaurants will need to work with nutrition professionals to determine the precise nutritional content of their foods.
  • Food from vending machines are subject to the guidelines if the owner has more than 20 vending units.

Affected foods include those sold at sit-down restaurants, takeout shops, pizzerias, made-to-order sandwiches at grocery stores, muffins and pastries at coffee shops, concessions at warehouse stores, foods sold at drive-through windows and self-serve foods at salad bars and buffets. Even some alcoholic beverages are included in the labeling requirements.

Many restaurants now provide nutritional information on their websites, tray liners, brochures and packaging, but less than 8 percent of restaurants provide the information at the point where diners decide what to order. Americans get up to one-third of their calories from restaurants, and the new legislation is designed to educate consumers about the high calorie content of many restaurant foods. For example, a large chocolate shake could have 500 more calories than an entire meal of a burger, fries and small soda.

Exceptions to Mandatory Labeling

Restaurants that aren’t affected by the guidelines are still subject to public opinion. As consumers become more educated about nutrition, they’re more likely to want nutritional information before ordering. Disclosing the information voluntarily can help restaurants build trust, and savvy restaurateurs can get ahead of regulations by disclosing complete nutritional information — even about foods that qualify for exceptions to the mandatory labeling. These exceptions include:

  • Optional condiments for general use
  • Temporary items that are sold fewer than 60 days in each calendar year
  • Food for marketing tests
  • Self-service foods that are sold on 60 or fewer days per year
  • Custom orders based on customer requests
  • Daily specials that aren’t routinely sold

Improving Your Restaurant’s Nutritional Profile

Smart restaurant owners are beginning to formulate strategies for dealing with possible consumer backlash against foods that are too high in calories. Options include reducing portion sizes, substituting healthier ingredients and adding healthier foods and recipes. Studies have found that supplying nutritional information — even if not required — improves a restaurant’s reputation, even if the food isn’t particularly healthy.

Education and Marketing

Restaurants strand to gain tremendous benefits by creating recipes that provide healthier nutrition and fulfill customers’ special diets and dining preferences. Thousands of websites promote dieting, supplementation to improve health and catering to special dietary requirements and preferences. More customers are requesting meals tailored to their needs, and restaurants can attract and keep customers by providing nutritional information, custom preparations, special dietary recipes and the healthier foods that many consumers want.

People are assaulted with food images and advertising designed to encourage eating. Restaurants depend on their customers dining out, but obesity continues to be a real problem for all socioeconomic groups. Learn a lesson from the tobacco industry that routinely ignored people’s health by getting in front of the trend by providing meaningful nutritional labeling and making useful recommendations for people on special diets.

Your customers will appreciate your efforts if you encourage them to make smarter eating decisions. Restaurants are the experts on foods and nutrition in every community — places where people eat and connect daily. Make nutritional information fun, easy and accessible for your customers, and you could increase customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, advertising exposure and profit margins for the special services that you offer.