Restaurant Calorie Disclosure

Unintended Consequences Lurking?
Mar 26, 2010 5:30 PM ET

Elegant Roots Blog

Some will say this isn't the governments business -- but with obesity and over-weightness weighing-in at 66% of the population, it is a public health issue. The new health reform law requires chain restaurants to list the calorie counts of their food.

I like the idea -- transparency and making informed decisions are high on my list of virtues. That's what is all about for eco and fair trade gifts. Elegant Roots tells you what you need to make an informed decision about a meaningful gift.

Menu disclosure has already been going on by local rule in some places. I've been to a few. At a California Pizza Kitchen I was shocked some of the salads were over 2000 calories while some of the personal pizzas were under 1000. Info is power but I had two reactions: immediate -- I finally settled on a selection that I otherwise would have passed over; and longer-term, I'm not so anxious to go out to dinner having now learned that immense calorie counts can seemingly be hidden anywhere.

What will the consequences be, intended and unintended, of this new rule? The restaurants with 20 or more locations will probably begin offering selections that are not absurd -- like those 2000 calorie salads might give way to something more reasonable. A few restaurants will tout the "I-don't-give-a-damn" reaction. But will business be affected overall?

What about the one or two-location restaurants? LOHAS consumers are perhaps more interested in the ingredients than the calorie count. But judging by the number of diet plans, books, and schemes, there are an enormous number of people weight-watching at any given moment. Will a weight-watching restaurant-goer opt for the chain when otherwise they might have visited an individual restaurant? Subway seems to have a lot of success with their Jason dieter's sandwiches.

Will this rule drive out non-chain eateries? Some may adopt the menu disclosures voluntarily, but that's not feasible for the great majority?

Let's hope consumers will use the info to make healthful selections and that restaurants will evolve to offer more and more appealing healthful selections. I'm happy to have the info but I sense unintended consequences lurking.