In the next few years, calorie counts will become as commonplace as dollar amounts on restaurant menus. The Health Care Reform bill signed earlier this year includes a provision requiring restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to print calories on menus, menu boards and other merchandising materials. Additionally, the mandate requires that full disclosure of additional nutrients be provided, most likely within the menu or in a brochure or poster format.
Some states and regions have passed similar mandates in the last few years, and some restaurant chains have provided nutrition information for many years. Nonetheless, this federally regulated menu labeling law represents a significant shift in the industry, with important implications, both short and long-term, for the culinary, operations and marketing aspects of restaurant companies.
Although the regulations for the new standardized labeling mandate have not been officially released, nor a date for compliance set (see Menu Labeling, Part I), it’s not too early to get started on the process to ensure that your restaurant will be ready for this industry transition.
How can your restaurant get ready for menu labeling? Answering the following five questions will assess your restaurant’s readiness for the new nutrition labeling ordinance:
1. Does your restaurant have accurate, standardized recipes?
The accuracy of your nutrition information is dependent on the accuracy of your recipes. All recipes, including the sub-recipes and plate specifications, must include:
- Precise measurements
- A thorough listing of all ingredients â€“ including the oil, butter, salt, etc. added during preparation and/or with the presentation
- Brand names and nutrition facts labels of all ingredients
- A full description of preparation methods
Your accurate recipes will be an integral component of the next four questions.
2. Does your restaurant already have nutrition information?
Is it accurate? If you’re not sure, then read through the NO section below. If you are sure your information is accurate, then skip to Question 3.
That may be good news, because now you have the opportunity to take the time to make sure you have a solid base of high-quality, accurate information. There are two methods to analyze the nutrient content of your menu items: database and chemical analysis. It is important to note that the accuracy of both methods is dependent on the degree to which the menu item is analyzed exactly as the recipe states.
Laboratory or chemical analysis is generally more expensive than database analysis. Many of the large quick service/fast food chains that have highly standardized items choose laboratory analysis. In addition, fried foods should undergo laboratory analysis because the database method cannot accurately compute the changes in nutrients, and related moisture loss, due to the frying process.
For most restaurant companies, the database method is the most cost-effective means of obtaining nutrition information. However, since restaurant meals generally have many ingredients, varying yields, complex cooking processes and industry-specific brands, it is very important to have a qualified analyst perform the computerized analysis. Look for registered dietitians, or other qualified nutrition professionals, who have experience in analyzing nutrition information for restaurants. It is also important to make sure your analysts utilize a high-quality software database and provide a quality assurance component.
In summary, an accurate analysis requires:
1) A detailed, accurate recipe, 2) A qualified nutrition professional with experience in nutrient analysis for the restaurant industry, 3) A high-quality database, and 4) A quality assurance review process.
3. Does your restaurant have a system for training staff to adhere to recipe specifications?
By following the guidance above, your restaurant can be confident that you have a solid foundation of high-quality nutrition information. You can assume you are 50% on the way to providing accurate nutrition information. The other 50% is dependent on how exact your restaurant staff is in adhering to the recipes upon which the nutrition information is based. It is very important that all staff responsible for prepping, preparing and presenting food be thoroughly trained in the importance of adhering to the recipes.
4. Does your restaurant have a system for updating and maintaining the data for the long-term?
How long will you be in business? That is probably how long you will need to maintain the accuracy of your nutrition information. That means you will need to keep the information updated with any changes in brands, preparation methods, or changes in ingredients. Even small modifications to the recipe may result in significant changes to the nutrition data (i.e., if your restaurant changes the brand of tortilla, burger bun, etc.). The analysis will need to be updated to reflect the revised information for the new product. Modifications are easy to revise with computerized analysis. With laboratory analysis, the sample will need to be sent back to the lab.
You will need to determine who will be responsible for being the liaison (corporate chef, food and beverage director, etc.) with your nutrition analysis team to ensure that the data is updated on a regular basis.
5. Do you have a quality assurance program in place to validate the accuracy, if needed?
Not only should your nutrition analysis provider have a QA system, your restaurant should also consider a system to ensure that your nutrition information is maintained accurately and your team is adhering to the recipes exactly.
Anita Jones-Mueller is an expert on restaurant nutrition, and is president and founder of HEALTHY DINING.
For a complimentary nutrition consultation of your menu, email Erica@HealthyDiningFinder.com.