Legislating lunch

By Abagail A. Lorden | October 01, 2007

While enjoying an entirely devilish flourless chocolate torte over lunch at last month's Restaurant Executive Summit, a conversation sprung up about proposed government legislation that would require restaurants to make nutritional information available to guests; and it doesn't stop there. The push to ban ingredients containing trans-fats is gaining momentum, with legislation proposed in 16 states.

The combined effects of these two initiatives would place a significant economic burden on restaurants as they overhaul menus, face extensive menu printing costs and seek out healthier ingredients.

Some restaurants are taking the initiative in the trans fat movement. Ted's Montana Grill, for one, was one of the first full-service restaurants to go fully trans-fat free.

When it comes to nutritional information disclosure, the hot question is how, and how much. What's the best way to present the information to the guest, and should that information be made available all the time (in other words, printed on all menus)?

While including nutritional information on all menu items is the most empowering option for guests, it begs the question: do all guests really want to know the calorie count of their deep-dish pizza with the works?

Alternatively, restaurants could print "lighter options" menus, available upon request; but depending upon how legislation comes down, this approach might not meet government requirements for full disclosure. In addition to printing new menus, Ted's Montana Grill is making nutritional information available on the company's website. The website approach is perhaps the most cost efficient solution, but on its own won't do much to help guests when they are sitting in a restaurant.

As a diner, I'd prefer some guidance from the restaurant as to which selections they know to be the healthiest. Perhaps that would encourage me to select lighter options on a regular basis (i.e., not the chocolate torte). The pragmatist in me, however, realizes the economic burden this would place on the industry, and perhaps ultimately the guest; and no consumer wants to be on the receiving end of that dish.

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