Restaurant Industry Insights

Is More Menu Labeling Coming to Restaurants?

Consumers have relied on menus for decades to make informed decisions about what they eat at restaurants. The idea of menu labeling isn’t new, and as health concerns rise, it’s likely to become even more prevalent.

The Impact of Calorie Labeling on Restaurants

We know that menu labeling does impact customer choices. Studies have shown that calorie labeling can nudge customers towards lower-calorie options. This effect could impact sales of high-calorie dishes, but it might also encourage healthier reformulations or smaller portion sizes to remain competitive. Restaurants that embrace clear labeling can be seen as more transparent and health-conscious, potentially attracting customers who prioritize healthy eating.

Implementing menu labeling involves some upfront costs, such as printing new menus or updating digital displays. However, these costs are typically one-time and relatively minor. 

NYC’s New Proposal: Potential Impact

New York City is proposing a new rule requiring chain restaurants with 15 or more locations to label menu items with high sugar content clearly. The rule will be implemented in two phases: starting June 19 for pre-packaged food items and December 1 for other items. These labels, which will include a black and white spoon icon loaded with sugar, will only be required for items that are the same as what’s sold in pre-packaged retail form. While the main target is beverages, other high-sugar items must also be labeled. The label will indicate items containing at least 50 grams of added sugar. Alongside it, restaurants must display a warning stating: “Warning: indicates that the added sugar content of this item is higher than the total daily recommended limit of added sugar for a 2,000 calorie diet (50g). Eating too many added sugars can contribute to type 2 diabetes and weight gain.” What does that mean for you?

  • Compliance: Restaurants would need to determine which menu items fall under the labeling requirement, potentially requiring adjustments to recipes or sourcing to avoid added sugar.
  • Menu Clutter: Adding sugar labels could lead to cluttered menus, making them harder to navigate for customers. Clear and concise labeling formats will be crucial for effectiveness.
  • Consumer Behavior: The impact on customer behavior is uncertain. Some may actively avoid high-sugar items, while others prioritize taste or familiarity.

Don’t be surprised if menu labeling initiatives expand to encompass additional nutrient labeling for sodium, fat, or even carbohydrates. Ingredient sourcing transparency about ingredients’ origins could also be next and appeal to customers who value sustainability or local sourcing.

While there are challenges to implementing these initiatives, the potential benefits for public health are undeniable. Clearer and more comprehensive menu labeling can empower consumers to make informed choices about what they eat, ultimately promoting healthier eating habits.

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