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Menu information: How much is too much?

Restaurant operators will agree that providing nutrition information so that customers can make informed ordering decisions is a reality of business in these health-conscious times.

In fact, a number of chain operators opted to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards years before the national menu labeling law neared implementation because they saw a major customer-relations advantage in being transparent about nutrition.

Now, operators may wish to consider whether consumers want to have even more extensive information about the menu, such as fat, protein, carbohydrate, sodium and fiber counts, and so on.

An important issue to consider when deciding about additional menu information is the current crowded state of menus and menu boards. Would displaying fat grams, for example, make menus even more difficult to read, making ordering slower? Also worth considering is whether additional nutrition messages would be absorbed by customers or whether they would be lost in the menu clutter.

However, there are other ways to get nutrition information across to customers that may be more practical and effective, such as by means of written and online materials, selective menu callouts and signage at the point of sale.

The most practical way for operators to provide additional nutrition information, and for customers to receive it, may be in the form of flyers or brochures offered in the restaurant, or as many restaurants do, offered online, to be accessed at will.

Another method is to use selective callouts on the menu, if space allows, or signage on the tabletop. For example, if you have reduced the calorie count of your tuna salad sandwich by 80 calories by substituting a lower-calorie mayonnaise, show the before and after calorie counts and take credit for the accomplishment.

Alternatively, you may follow the lead of some major restaurant chains and launch an “under 400 calorie” menu, or a selection of small plates or snacks that feature great-tasting, lighter items in smaller portions.

Apart from knowing calories, sodium, fat and other traditional nutrition components, today’s consumers want to be more informed how the food they are eating is raised or produced, and restaurants can profit by providing that information, according to the research firm Technomic.

In fact, according to Technomic research released in March, more than half of consumers (59 percent) rated "socially responsible" as an important factor when deciding what restaurant they will visit. That was followed by serves meat and poultry raised without hormones or steroids (58 percent), serves free-range poultry and/or grass-fed beef (45 percent) and serves natural and organic menu items (41 percent).

At any rate, with the national menu labeling law going into effect before long, now is the time to groom the flavor profiles and calorie counts of your menu items, if you have not done so already. Even simple ingredient substitutions, such as switching from standard mayonnaise to a mayo that tastes great but has less calories and fat, can make a significant improvement in health perception without sacrificing flavor. 

This post is sponsored by Kraft Foodservice

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