Now that the recent menu labeling compliance date requiring chain restaurants of 20 or more locations to provide calorie counts and nutrition information has passed, many in the restaurant industry are breathing a sigh of relief. The hard work that goes into menu labeling is finished, and establishments can go back to business as usual.
Since the compliance deadline, however, many restaurants that weren’t required to comply with the new rules are actually showing interest in voluntarily labeling their menus with calories and nutrition information. From mom-and-pop diners to local restaurant chains, there’s a lot of curiosity about how to obtain calorie counts and why it may be beneficial, both for the diners and for the establishment, to voluntarily label restaurant menus.
How to Obtain Calorie Information for Restaurants
Once you’ve decided to provide your diners with calorie counts and nutrition information, you need to figure out how you are going to analyze your recipes. There are a few different ways to go about this, so it’s important to understand your options before you choose one.
Essentially, there are four ways to obtain nutrition information: CD-ROM programs, independent menu labeling consultants, food labs, and online nutrition analysis software. Let’s have a look at each:
CD-ROM Programs: There is an abundance of CD-ROM programs that you can purchase and use to analyze your restaurant’s recipes. After installing it on your computer, you use the program’s database of ingredients to enter your recipe, then it gives you the calorie counts and nutrition info. While CD-ROMs may seem like a sound option, the software is often not very user-friendly and the ingredient databases are somewhat limited. Plus, most modern computers don’t even have disk drives, rendering CD-ROMs less useful.
Independent Menu Labeling Consultants: Independent consultants are great because they do all the nutrition analysis for you. All you have to do is give them your recipes and they’ll do the rest. The downside, however, is that they charge a hefty fee—sometimes upwards of $400 per recipe. Another thing to keep in mind is that there may be a longer turnaround time for your results depending on how busy the consultant is. Some restaurateurs are also concerned about the confidentiality of their recipes, so handing them over to someone else can be nerve wracking.
Lab Analysis: Having your menu items analyzed by a food lab means sending samples of each item off to be chemically analyzed. While this is a highly accurate kind of nutrition analysis, it is pricey. In fact, it can cost as much as $700 per sample. If the cost isn’t prohibitive enough, consider that it may take up to a month to get your results back, so if you are short on time, this isn’t your best bet.
Online Nutrition Analysis Software: Online analysis is similar to CD-ROM analysis except there is no disk required and everything is done online. The best software features a secure, password protected sign-in where users can access their accounts and use an extensive USDA-compiled database to input their recipes. Once the recipes are in, the results are instantly generated. Online software tends to be incredibly user-friendly and reasonably priced. MenuCalc, for example, can cost as little as $5 per recipe analysis.
You certainly have options when it comes to obtaining calorie and nutrition information for your restaurant. What your decision really comes down to is how much you are willing to spend and how long you can wait for your results. I always recommend online nutrition analysis because it is the most affordable, quickest, and easiest method to use.
The Benefits of Voluntary Calorie Labeling
Of course, considering how to obtain information is only one part of the commitment to provide calorie and nutrition info on your menu. The other important part is understanding why it may be a smart idea to include this information.
Many people argue that menu labeling is important for the future of America. After all, modern restaurants have a social responsibility to be transparent about the food they serve, and customers have a right to know what they are putting in their bellies. Providing nutrition information and calorie counts on menus could even lead to a gradual shift in how and what our nation eats, which could effectively reduce the incidence of obesity and lower our nation’s healthcare costs. Plus, menu labeling helps decrease the risk of allergic reactions in your establishment and makes it easier for diners with specialized diets to order food that fits their lifestyles.
The fact that calorie and nutrition labeling is beneficial for customers means it can also be incredibly beneficial for food establishments. Meeting the increasing demand for more information about the food we eat could mean more business for your restaurant. Happy diners equal a happy restaurant, after all.
Once you’ve had time to consider the benefits of calorie labeling and examine your options when it comes to recipe analysis, then you can start work on menu labeling with confidence. Of course, menu labeling guidance is always available for those who need it, so don’t be afraid to reach out to experts in the menu labeling field if you ever feel confused about the FDA guidelines. Just because you are choosing to voluntarily provide calorie and nutrition information on your menu doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.