The Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce Tuesday new rules that will require chain restaurants and other food outlets to list the caloric content of the dishes on their menus. Movie theaters and pizza chains would also be included in the ruling. Details about the announcement are in this article from the New York Times. The reasoning behind the ruling is the belief that if customers know the number of calories in the food they eat, they will make more healthful choices and perhaps help turn around the country's obesity epidemic.
My question is: Why limit the ruling to chain restaurants?
There are plenty of fat people walking around who wouldn't be caught having a heart attack in a Burger King or Applebee's. One is just as able to eat too much in an independently owned eatery. No one is more aware of that than I. I know that among the chefs who prepare the wonderful food we have in this town there most likely isn't even one with a nutritionist background. It isn't their job to provide a nutritiously balance meal. It's their job to impress the diners with ample amounts of delicious food, often made tastier with the addition of flavorful fats.
I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with that, but I'm a firm believer of providing the information a consumer needs to make an informed choice. The poached sea bass on a menu seem more healthful but not if the liquid it was poached in was butter.
And I don't want to kill the buzz of a fine meal out. But empirical data can lead to more balanced choices. And requiring the count would not be a tremendous burden. Software exists that can take the ingredients of a recipe, divide by the number of servings, and present an approximate calorie count as well as other nutritional information. And despite chefs' proclivity for adding a pinch of this or a dash of that, don't fool yourself that they don't know exactly how much of the main ingredients goes into each recipe. It's absolutely necessary for knowing the food cost margins and determining the menu prices.
But this decision will leave out the independents and put the burden on the chains, which, by the way, is defined as any business with 20 or more locations nationwide.
Did you ever wonder why Houston's, the popular Winter Park restaurant suddenly changed its name to Hillstone? It certainly wasn't because the company has a marketing mastermind in its corporate headquarters.
No, Houston's was changed to Hillstone because New York City enacted its own calorie count law several years ago. Its tipping point is 15 locations. Houston's suddenly became Hillstones to lower the count. (There are no Houston's in the city any more; the closest is Long Island City.) Sort of makes you wonder what Houston's is hiding in its calorie counter, doesn't it?
So you can expect to see some other smaller chains get a bit smaller. (By the way, there are currently exactly 19 Houston's restaurants nationwide, so it's safe for now.)
And let's give kudos to some of the restaurants that have added calorie counts to menus nationwide, including McDonald's and Panera Bread. Ultimately, I'll decide what I want to eat, but I appreciate the information I need to make the appropriate choices for myself.
What do you think? Do you want to see calorie counts on all menus, or would you rather just not know? Leave a comment below.