Consumers Want to Know What’s on the Menu

Discussion
Jun 18, 2010
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By
George
Anderson

There
are
still
plenty
of
people
who are going to order that heart-attack-waiting-to-happen-on-the-bun
no matter how bad it is for them
to eat, but most consumers would
like to know the nutritional value
(or lack thereof) of what they are
eating. Oh yeah, they also want restaurants
to put the information on the menu
voluntarily and not have to be forced
to do it by the government.

According to research by Mintel, 60 percent of consumers
think that nutritional information should be posted on restaurant menus. Forty-four
percent are in favor of government entities stepping in and forcing restaurants
to do it if they choose not to on their own.

While some restaurants may have
concerns about offering information that may cause consumers to alter their
menu choices or, worse yet, go to eat someplace
else, the reality suggests delivering bad nutritional news is not going to
change much in the way of behavior.

Mintel
found that 60 percent of restaurant customers are looking, first and foremost,
for dishes that taste good. Only 23 percent are taking the health first approach.

Eric
Giandelone, Mintel’s director of foodservice research, told Nation’s
Restaurant News
, that there are ways to get around unpleasant shocks
that come with full disclosure on menus.

"There may be some initial consumer shock at the calorie counts and
chains may have to start listing lower-calorie options or smaller portion sizes
to help diffuse this unpleasant surprise," he said.

Discussion Questions: Why is it taking so long for restaurants to post calories
and other information on menus when it’s clear customers want the information?
How would you propose getting around any menu shock that may come with the disclosure
of nutritional information?

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24 Comments on "Consumers Want to Know What’s on the Menu"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Because if they told the truth they would lose orders–particularly for dishes using salt, sugar and fat to cover up the taste of inexpensive ingredients.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

It’s taking so long because consumers don’t really care. Who’s going to say, in a survey, that they don’t think restaurants should have to do this? Who’s going to say, “Hey, I’m a slug and don’t care about nutrition information and what I’m putting into my stomach”?

We need to be very careful when looking at data from social issues surveys. Most are biased, not because it’s a bad survey (Mintel is known for doing good work), but that the answers have a self-presentation aspect. These are the same respondents who will tell you they will pay a lot more for environmentally-friendly products, but never do. The surveys can’t get at their true feelings on issues like this.

Peter Fader
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

I see nutrition information on menus as a passing fad. I suspect that consumers care far less about it than the surveys indicate, and they will find that it’s a distraction/annoyance more than a helpful resource. I think they would find more value in consumer ratings/reviews of menu items than from nutritional info.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
10 years 10 months ago

Let me say first that I am a fan of full disclosure on menus.

However, let’s be honest–what people say they want and what they really do are often quite different and restaurants are an indulgence for which people are willing to sacrifice. What’s next? Do we force restaurants to put fat content and sodium levels on menus?

By all means keep putting the calories on there. But let chefs get creative and start creating health-oriented alternative recipes of the same items. I think we can do the same at retail. Not everyone who wants to eat healthy is going to stand there and read labels for every item.

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

I side with Ryan on this one. Calorie labeling on menus is like warning labels on cigarette packages. It may not be good for business in the short term to see the often incredible amount of calories, sodium and fat in the meals we eat–especially in the “fast casual” segment–but it’s irresponsible not to provide more clear-cut truth in packaging.

After all, consumers have had the advantage of seeing and using ingredient labels on packaged food for many years. Why not restaurant meals? And is it feasible that a smart marketing team at a restaurant chain can leverage a “healthier” brand position into more sales?

Marge Laney
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

I think putting calorie information on the menu is a nice idea. But, I don’t think the government needs to be involved. Is there anything they won’t try to regulate? Unless you eat every meal out, the food you eat at restaurants is not a mainstay of your daily diet.

When I go out I plan for it; sometimes. It would be great to know how many calories are in the pasta dish I’m going to indulge in tonight, but would it stop me if it exceeded my daily calorie limit? No, and it more than likely will. I’ll just not eat so much tomorrow and work out a little bit harder.

Bottom line, it would be nice to know the calorie content of restaurant food and would make planning what we eat a little easier, but will I stop eating stuff that others deem bad for me? Absolutely not.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 10 months ago
We want “truth in lending,” too. But there are an awful lot of people out there that don’t want banks regulated. As I wrote several days ago…there is no way packaged food manufacturers would even include ingredients on their packages if not regulated to do it. It is the same for restaurants. Either the news is going to be bad or the restaurant is going to have to deliver on the good news they print. Unfortunately, much of the food industry is more focused on fooling the consumer than delivering information. How many meetings have we sat in where the entire topic was “is there a better way to present this” bad news? The bad news being the truth about calories, or fat or sugar or lack of nutrition. Even the way today’s question is asked panders to the idea of that old shell game. “How would you propose getting around any menu shock that may come with the disclosure of nutritional information?” There is one easy way! Provide good nutrition!!! Or is that not… Read more »
Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
10 years 10 months ago

If consumers in the majority cared about nutrition and nutritional labeling from the standpoint of using such labeling as a means to eat in a healthy manner, this country wouldn’t be facing the obesity crisis it is in today.

Talking heads and media talk up the issues, the populace watches and talks, a frenzy ensues, studies are conducted, experts are appointed, scapegoats are assigned and legislation is passed…but in the end it doesn’t change behavior.

I’ll have the double cheeseburger, fries and a diet coke please…hold the bacon.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

I think the posts have covered all of the points for and against posting nutritional information on a menu.

But add to it the amount of time and effort it takes, what happens if you change recipes, what happens if you get a bowl of something and for some reason you get more salt or some other ingredient than is normal? Food made in a kitchen is still different than food made in a factory.

Just ask the Cheesecake Factory (who does post nutritional value) how many carbs are in a piece of low carb cheese cake and the answer is between like 10 and 20–now that is a possible range of twice as many in one piece as it is in another. If I want the 10 carb piece I may not get it.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

It’s taking so long for restaurants to post calorie counts because they don’t want consumers to know the full story about what they are eating. Providing the information may cause consumers to change what they order or abandon one restaurant for a healthier alternative. If the nation is going to come to grips with its obesity problem, calorie information is needed, coupled with education about healthy eating.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
10 years 10 months ago
Calorie count is a complex issue, and some of the resistance comes from the fact that a healthy diet is not just a single restaurant meal, it’s a balance throughout all meals during the day. And calories are not the only measure, so a calorie count board may end up being misleading. In addition, how effective are the calorie count boards? One New York City survey indicated that at many fast-food outlets, only 5% noticed the calorie counts (at some chains that emphasize health, one-third of customer noticed). So why bother? All this said, in a nation in which 58 million are overweight, 40 million are obese and 3 million are considered morbidly obese (leading to a 76% increase in 30-40 year olds’ Type II diabetes since 1990), it would seem that there is a solid demographic/public health rationale for calorie count boards, however flawed the concept may or may not be. Moreover, there are some stats which do show positive outcomes. A Stanford Graduate School of Business study released early this year indicated that… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 10 months ago

I just heard Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, speak on this exact subject. The fact is, the vast majority of the public doesn’t equate the caloric value of the lunch they eat today with the heart attack it might cause 3 years from now. We have trouble being rational with respect to long-term danger – case in point, global warming. For the most part, we want to satisfy our immediate desire for something that tastes/feels good. Hence, Cold Stone Creamery’s new 2000 calorie milkshake!

Therefore, from a restaurant owner’s point of view, listing the nutritional value of the food they serve is sort of providing a solution to a problem that (in the consumer’s mind) doesn’t exist.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 10 months ago

I recently was on a business trip and ate lunch at an Applebee’s that shared nutritional information for everything on the menu. I was more than impressed and at the same time surprised. Some of the items you would think were healthy had high levels of sodium and high fat because of the dressing that was included. They also had a special section for meals with less than 550 calories.

I was able to order something that not only tasted good, but also met my criteria from a health perspective. While traveling, it is hard to find restaurants that offer healthy options. Although not the fanciest place, I plan to visit Applebee’s for lunch while traveling on business because of the nutritional information they provide.

I see this trend growing and hope more eating establishments will pick up on the opportunity.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 10 months ago

I have to agree with the majority of the posters here – consumers may say they care about nutritional info, but they don’t follow it up with their food choices. Would America be the most obese country on earth if the average person was really conscientious about calories, fat content, etc.? Everyone knows fast food hamburgers are unhealthy, yet same-store sales at leading fast food chains indicate it’s not stopping anyone from eating them.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Why do you think? Because disclosing the results would be ugly!

The influence of nutritional disclosure will vary by restaurant type. For example:

Jamba Juice discloses its nutritional content, and rightly so as I see it as part of their brand promise.

Smith & Wollensky shouldn’t worry much about this as people don’t choose that venue with calorie counting on their mind.

BTW, the nutritional disclosure at Jamba is interesting: 1 protein boost adds 10 grams to the shake of choice. If you were to make a post-workout recovery shake at home, you’d probably add at least 20 grams. I’m not wild about having to buy 2 boosts to make the drink functional for recovery but at least the consumer knows what they are getting for the price.

PS: My larger concern — that the labeling and disclosures are accurate. The Today Show ran a piece this week showing significant discrepancies in labeling to actual content in many diet oriented prepared foods.

Richard Wakeham
Guest
Richard Wakeham
10 years 10 months ago

Most of the nutritional information, except brand new offerings, from national chains can be easily found on the internet. Fast food data is really interesting. However, its best use can be in formulating how much more insulin, heart medicine, cholesterol and or exercise will be required to offset the indulgence. 🙂

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 10 months ago
Ryan may be right about the “facts” — but Stephen and Peter have the edge when it comes to the truth. Consumers in general don’t give a tinker’s ….. about the calorie count when they are deciding whether or not to have a Big Mac. If they really want to know, there are plenty of places to find out right now. I should know, my wife lives on “Spark People” and regularly informs me of my sins. Like most social issues, there is a vocal minority telling the rest of us how we should feel and, when asked, we agree to avoid psychological discordance. This is how we wind up with polls indicating that “90% of all Americans support environmental initiatives…” — but somehow we still wind up with litter on our highways and in our waterways. Those other 10% must sure be slobs! Besides, it costs money to reconfigure menu boards or to add signage that conveys all that information. And it will be awfully tough to show your board the ROI on that… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Ryan makes a good point. Posting nutritional value may lose orders. The orders lost might be the higher profit items.

Yes, posting the nutritional value has a place and will be coming sooner than restaurants might prefer. I am not sure the nutritional value is going to change my mind about what I am ordering. My wife takes charge of the “nutritional value” importance when we eat at home. Eating out is my time to decide the “nutritional value” of what I want. Salt is out. Most everything else still has a chance depending on my taste buds at the time.

I recall a friend telling me the “yellow” packet sugar substitute is safer over the years. I still prefer the “pink”.

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Knowledge is power and putting power into your customers’ hands — that kind of power (better choice) — is daunting, especially if you’re used to a one-way conversation.

Believe it or not, the Prius’ constant display of gas mileage is a case study for this. Knowing EXACTLY how many MPGs you’re getting at all times makes you drive differently or even take different (less hilly) routes. But notice you haven’t seen that feature yet in pick up trucks and SUVs even though they’ve knocked off other Prius features. No need to guess why not.

In any case, the knowledge they impart to consumers will only make them better, so they should get on with it.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Why is it taking so long for restaurants to fully disclose nutritional information on the menus?
Let me list the reasons:

1. Mintel’s research shows that 60 percent of restaurant customers are interested in health more so than taste while only 23 percent are health conscious. Restaurants don’t want to turn off 6 out of 10 of their customers telling them what they don’t really want to know.

2. Showing all the nutritional information is a huge burden especially to fast food restaurants if they need to post it legibly somewhere for consumers to actually read it. The Big Thicky Triple Bi-Pass Bacon Ham and Cheese Burger would have to have an entire poster of its very own to explain all the fatty ingredients.

3. Higher-end restaurants don’t want to spoil their elegant menu items by telling us that the Chateaubriand for Two contains 168 mg of trans fat for each of you! Happy Valentines Day!

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Last week I ordered a new item on a menu partly because it was new and partly because the calorie count was reasonable. It tasted bad. So I will not order it again, not because I’m ignoring the calorie count but because it wasn’t good. Undermining lower calorie choices does not help consumers make healthy choices.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Because it costs lots of money and consumers don’t care.

On a related point, I agree that most people are poor judges of risk or will evade long-term risks for short-term pleasure. But in the case of food, it isn’t even clear to the foremost medical authorities exactly what the risk is. If nothing else, Gary Taubes work has shown that the relationship between food and health is far more complex than the public health authorities would have you believe.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

An interesting idea for a study (hey, we can always use another one of those, right?) would be to correlate how frequently restaurants post info with how much “healthy” food they offer. Many here have postulated restaurants don’t post info because it would be a negative, but logically the flip side should be true also–restaurants with a lot of positives should be crowing about it.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
10 years 10 months ago

More restaurants should take advantage of this. Darden’s Seasons 52 is a good example of this. The reason why this is not happening fast enough is concern over profits. The restaurants like Darden who offer more healthy alternatives and are open about their menus should benefit.

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