Chef Isaac’s 5 Insider Tips on Managing Calorie Labeling
1. Establish recipes NOW. This will help the transition.
2. Buy a program that will analyze the recipes for nutritional value. I would suggest a nutritional based program made by Esha. I have used it for many years and it works. By purchasing this program (or the like), you’ll save money and time in the long run especially when changing up menus.
3. Hire a culinary student to input the data. It is a cheap and fast and the majority of the time, culinary students have to take a nutrition class. The only downfall is that you are putting your hard work in their hands. With that said, there is a “Truths in Menu” law that states any claims made on your menu must be correct. Violation of this can lead to legal action against you. Though this is a viable solution to hire a culinary student, I would only pick the top student to work on this project.
4. Contract out the work. I’ve helped many bakeries and foodservice establishments with this and it has been a fun project to do. You can easily hire a nutritionist or a dietician to input the recipes and analyze them for you. It will come with a cost. CAUTION: Stay away from free, computer-based programs. Often they do not have the ingredient specs you buy.
5. Instead of printing the information on the menu, I like to suggest to have a binder available for the customers to look at if they ask. This would include the name of the dish, nutritional label and the ingredient deck.
Calorie Labeling: Overview
Starting May 7, 2018, new legislation from the FDA will be enacted with the goal of making nutritional information more readily available for restaurant guests so they can make more informed dietary choices. Many people are unaware they spend about half of their food dollars, and eat about one third of their total calories on foods prepared away from home. People often seriously underestimate the calories in these foods.
Does It Apply to You?
If you own or operate 20 or more units, you’ll have to comply with the law, but even if you’re smaller than that, you have the choice to opt in. While it might sound a lot easier to simply opt out, keep in mind guests are looking for transparency when it comes to their dining options. Health sells. Research shows restaurants with more lower calorie servings saw a 10.9% increase in total traffic count and a 10% increase in sales.1
What You’ll Need to Do
The new legislation focuses on calories so you’ll need to make sure that information is displayed clearly and prominently on menus, menu boards, drive-through displays, self-service areas and buffet and cafeteria lines. Other nutritional information must be available in writing such as calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein.
You’ll need to communicate to your guests that “additional nutrition information is available upon request.” You’ll also have to include the statement, “2000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.” You can find the full set of regulations and other guidance on the FDA site.
There Are Exceptions
Gathering all that data and figuring out how to best display it can seem like a huge pain, however there are some exceptions. Exclusions include:
- General-use condiments (e.g., tabletop condiments such as mayo, mustard, ketchup, sugar, jelly etc.)
- Custom orders
- Daily specials or temporary/seasonal items
- Test-market items
How to Get Started
The first step will be to calculate nutritional information for your menu. This process can sound overwhelming, but you can use the resources and data you may already have available. The FDA states your results can be based on information obtained from nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, the Nutrition Facts label, and other reasonable means. Calories should be listed per serving.2
To help share the load of taking the steps to compliance, work with your distributors to identify accurate ingredients, especially if you’re wanting to create gluten-free or allergen-sensitive dishes.
We know government regulation in your restaurant can feel extremely intrusive, but with the right perspective and execution, you can use the FDA rules as a new opportunity to better serve your customers—and make more money.
1 Hudson Institute, Lower-Calorie Foods It’s Just Good Business, February 2013
2 FDA.gov, “Questions and Answers on the Menu and Vending Machines Nutrition Labeling Requirements”