Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Impact of Including Calorie Information on Restaurant Menus

The restaurant business is in a competitive industry where price conscious consumers make economic choices about where and when to eat. Understanding customers and their needs affords opportunities to draw them back again and again allowing for greater revenue generation. According to research nearly half all food expenditures are outside of the home (Guthrie, Lin, & Frazao, 2002).  Since customers dine out on a frequent basis getting the menu right can make a huge difference in customer perceptions and sales. 

With the 2010 Healthcare Reform Law food service with 20 or more outlets and food within stores must come with nutritional information. This does not apply to small restaurants that may be making individual choices to include such information. Therefore, research into the specific advantages and disadvantages of labeling food is beneficial for smaller operations. 

The specific information that is required and where it is posted is another grey area in the law. This means that some establishments might put the information on their website, a posting in the facility, or any number of places. However, one must wonder if there is a benefit to including this information specifically within the menu. 

A study conducted by Pulos and Leng (2010) helps to highlight a number of aspects related to offering nutritional data on menus. The study was conducted in conjunction with the Pierce County Washington Health Department. Their goal was to determine if including nutritional information changed ordering patterns by customers. If there was a change they wanted to see if there were ways to improve the program.

To conduct their study they looked at independently owned restaurants to compare the pre-labeling and post-labeling impact on customer purchases. Information in the labeling included calories, fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. Out of the six participating businesses a number were not aware of their nutritional data and the health department helped them calculate appropriate numbers. Pre and post label orders were collected from the restaurants. Two hundred and six customers’ surveys were included in the study.


- In four of the six restaurants showed that post labeling purchases contained less calories. 

-In five of the six restaurants the post labeling purchases contained less fat.

- In the study the food purchased contained 15 fewer calories, 1.5 fewer grams of fat and 45 fewer milligrams of sodium.  

-Approximately a third of the customers made at least one behavioral change due to the nutritional information.

-Approximately 71% of people noticed the nutritional information.

-Approximately 80% of people under 46 years of age noticed the nutritional information and 60% of people over the age of 46 noticed the information.

Business Analysis:

Businesses that are not required to include nutritional information on their menus may consider changing based upon the demographics of their customers. Younger patrons appear to be more health conscious than older patrons. Purchasing patterns did adjust which items were bought when nutritional information was presented which resulted in few calories consumed. However, 15 calories a few days a week isn’t likely to make a large difference in obesity. The bigger change appears to be the businesses themselves that actually adjusted their food with alternatives to move their calorie counts downward. No information was presented on what this actually did in terms of revenue. Businesses will need to weigh and balance the benefits and costs associated with nutritional information to determine if it enhances their branding, customer satisfaction and image. The study did highlight how government and business have an opportunity to work together to understand problems and make movement toward choices that do not damage commerce.

Guthrie J, Lin & Frazao E. (2002). Role of food prepared away from home in the American diet, 1977–78 versus 1994–96: changes and consequences. J Nutritional Education Behavior, 34 (3)

Pulos, E and Leng, K. (2010) Evaluation of voluntary menu-labeling program in full-service restaurants. American Journal of Public Health, 100 (6).

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