Oregon Set To Require Menu Labeling For Chain Restaurants

Oregon has passed legislation requiring that chain restaurants post calorie information on menus. Oregon’s governor is expected to sign the bill.

Under the new law, restaurants that operate at least 15 locations in the country will be required to display calorie counts for foods on menus (including drive-thru menus). Although some fast food restaurants already display this information in store or online, others refuse to do so.

California is the only other state with a menu labeling law, although other states are considering similar legislation. Congress is also considering several national menu labeling bills. For lots of information on developing or existing legislation in city, state, and federal government, visit the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s site or be its friend on Facebook.

(Photo: Scott Ableman)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Radi0logy says:

    Wait, so would the restaurant have to post that that bean burrito you’re about to eat has 1200 calories and 40 grams of fat on the hanging menu in the store? Or just in those worthless paper menus in a box in the back of the store that no one working there even knows exists?

    Because if its the first, helllloo guilt trip! If its the second, so what?

    • hedonia says:

      @Radi0logy: Its the first (well, both), and its in small but readable print next to every item. In NYC, its made quite a difference in what I choose to eat, and I’m often surprised at the calorie counts in items that are billed as healthy. Sometimes the more caloric-looking items are actually less than something you would think would be low (I love comparing the muffins at dunkin’ donuts, for example).

    • ajlei says:

      @Radi0logy: According to the news articles I’ve been reading (I live in Oregon) they would have to be posted both on paper menus and any visible menu boards.

  2. Kaellorian says:

    I’d anticipate that their insurance premiums will skyrocket as a result of injuries from customers that walk in to the restaurant and up to the counter with their hands over their eyes to order. “If I can’t see the calories and fat grams, it doesn’t count!”

    Doing the walk of shame should be relegated to college campuses.

  3. bnelson333 says:

    I count calories, it’s helping me lose a lot of weight, and I can say even FINDING nutritional information can be really difficult. Instead of forcing them to re-display the nutritional information if they’re already making available, I wish they’d go after the companies that can’t be bothered to make it available at all. Especially foodservice places, like a cafeteria.

    • Rhayader says:

      @bnelson333: Yeah see that’s where I go with it. You can already find out how many calories are in a damn Whopper. Or are we too lazy and incompetent to go to the trouble of asking any more?

  4. 31y/oToday_GitEmSteveDave says:

    On a side note, sign makers in Oregon will put deposits on new pools after hearing of the laws passage.

  5. BigFoot_Pete says:

    Personally, I will admit that when they did this at the Chevy’s downtown, I though it was really dumb. Why should the government be forced to have people eat correctly? Then I noticed that, after the labeling, that I was indeed making healthier choices when I did visit on the off-occasion.

    My political animal wants to scream “no,” but the results are hard to hurdle in that process.

    • 31y/oToday_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @BigFoot_Pete: I must agree with you. I’d rather have a more informed decision than someone deciding something was bad for me and banning it. Places that banned trans fats made it seem like everything else that was trans fat free was more healthy.

      So given the choice of requiring easier to find information, or saying you can’t use/eat “Ingredient X”, I’ll go w/the former.

    • Preyfar says:

      @BigFoot_Pete: Well hell, half the problem is even some of the apparently healthy, or seemingly healthy, choices menus can be deceptively calorific and chock full of fat. You’re better off eating a quarter pounder value menu than a Panera Bread sandwich. Panera’s Chipotle Chicken on Artisan Bread, for the sandwich alone, tops out at damn near 1,100 calories.

      You know it’s bad when a mere chicken sandwich has more of a negative impact than a quarter pounder (510 calories) and medium fries (380 calories) combined.

      That’s saying something, and that’s the exact reason we need this information public.

    • wheresmymind says:

      @BigFoot_Pete: +1. Frankly, I’d be a bit insulted if my state gov’t decided I needed their help to eat healthy. But at the same time I’ve never thought twice about nutritional labeling on groceries. Part of the difference for me is that I don’t eat out enough for the food I eat in restaurants to impact my health, no matter how unhealthy it is. If I’m ordering at a fast-food place, I’m certainly not assuming that the food is nutritious in any way.

      • hedonia says:

        @wheresmymind: Well maybe you’re assuming that its bad, but when one thing is double the calories of another similar looking thing, and you’re trying to maintain your weight, choosing between the lesser of two evils is way easier with the information.

        However, if I really had the hankering for something (or however I decide to rationalize it), the information wouldn’t stop me, and that’s exactly the way it should be!

    • Rhayader says:

      @BigFoot_Pete: Yeah I’m definitely a libertarian type guy, and usually balk at nanny state crap designed to make us live better.

      In this case though, we’re really just talking about making information easily accessible, which really isn’t all that controlling in the long run.

  6. Sean Beattie says:

    I know it isn’t statewide, but NYC requires nutritional information be displayed on any menu, as far as calorie and fat content.

    • YouInTheBack says:

      @Sean Beattie:
      And I love it soooooo much. I’ve probably eaten 1000′s of calories less than I would have. This is really helpful for the menu items that sound healthy, or at least healthyish, but discover is actually not.

  7. redskull says:

    I can only imagine the size of the drive thru menus if they have to start adding calorie info to them. They’ll be the size of tractor trailers.

    On the other hand, this should give fast food marketing departments something to do, as they’ll now have to churn out signage with and without calorie info for states that do and don’t require it.

    • babyruthless says:

      @redskull: I just got back from a trip to NYC, and it was pretty straightforward on signage–they would have the name of the item, then the calories, then the price. Like
      “Bagel w/ cream cheese 510 cal $2″ or whatever
      It only took a little bit more on a line–not gigantic. They didn’t have all of the crap you find on a nutrition info box on food.

    • ncpeters says:

      @redskull: I don’t think they’d have to change the drive-thru menus, only in-store. I agree that having this available makes sense and hopefully would get people to reconsider that Double Whopper that has over 1000 calories and a day’s worth of fat.

      • BigPapaCherry says:

        @ncpeters: …will be required to display calorie counts for foods on menus (including drive-thru menus).

        So yeah, they will have to change the drive-thru menus.

        I was impressed with how NYC did it and exactly how much of an impact it had on my food choices. I’m all for it nationally.

  8. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I know Chipotle is unhealthy. I don’t really need a piece of paper telling me just how unhealthy it is. I guess some people do? Counting calories at a fast food restaurant is kind of ridiculous because no one presumes anything there is remotely healthy, but for sit down places I think it’s a useful tool.

    • winshape says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: My libertarian side is protesting against the government intervention. If people are going to Taco Bell or KFC expecting to eat healthy, then adding a bunch of numbers to the menu isn’t going to mean anything to them. The people counting calories already have numerous ways of getting the information online.

      However, my non-libertarian side agrees with the above posters with examples of how it is difficult to judge healthiness of foods by sight. I remember being shocked that a Schlotsky’s turkey sandwich has like 10000 calories vs. a quarter pounder having 400ish.

      Anyways, it isn’t the calorie count that is making people fat. It is their personal choices to eat out often that is making them fat. So maybe they’ll choose to eat the 500 calorie burger instead of the 600 calorie salad, but they’ll still eat out 2 meals a day.

    • nakedscience says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: There are plenty of things that can be healthy, or healthy enough. What if someone is in a hurry, and their only option is fast food? And they want to know how many calories they are getting? Why shouldn’t they be able to?

    • lisa1120 says:

      @pecan 3.14159265:

      Actually, Chipotle isn’t that unhealthy depending on what you choose. The fajita bowl that I always get is less than 500 calories.

      Personally I like knowing the nutritional facts, even for fast food, but I’m okay as long as it’s on the website. I agree with another poster above that I’d rather the attention be focused on the places that don’t currently make nutritional information available. For example, there’s a new quick service place near me called Bajio Mexican Grill. At first I thought they were independent, but I just found out that they’re actually a franchise with over 40 locations. With that many locations it seems like they should be required to provide calorie counts for their food.

      • Cybrczch says:

        @lisa1120: One of my favorite places for mexican-style fast food is a local chain with only 5 restaurants. I doubt their food is any healthier than Taco Bell, but according to this law they wouldn’t be required to post the calorie information like Taco Bell would.

    • DrGirlfriend says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Why advocate for less information to be provided to the consumer?

      • Rhayader says:

        @DrGirlfriend: Basically it comes down to the government enforcing more restrictions and regulations on businesses. For we libertarians, increased oversight and regulation is always viewed skeptically, since it basically infringes on a free market.

        In this case though, like you said we’re just talking about making information accessible. Even an anti-bailout drug legalizer like me doesn’t get too upset about it.

        Now if we’re talking trans fat bans, smoking bans, etc I would be singing a different tune. That stuff legitimately impinges on the business activities of a private company and is the wrong way to approach the issue.

  9. valthun says:

    This info should just be available upon request not cluttering up my menu. I don’t care to see this info, I know when what I eat is “bad” for me. But I eat it anyway.

    • BigPapaCherry says:

      @valthun: I too know when what I eat is “bad” for me, but the tough time is knowing when something is actually healthy. Many times the “healthy” item at a fast food place has more calories than the normal, “bad” item. Go figure.

    • ARP says:

      @valthun: That’s the problem. You don’t know. Some McDonald’s salads are worse than the burgers.

      I’m in favor of this. More information is good for a consumer to make an informed choice and its not a huge burden on the restaurants. I’m NOT in favor of the government telling me what I can and can’t eat.

    • mmmsoap says:

      @valthun: You don’t want to know, but what if I do? Is it easier/better for you to ignore the info, and make your food decisions anyway, or easier/better for me to have to track down the info that I want, that’s frequently only available online, when I’m on the run?

      This is very similar to the Mass law that was recently passed (that, surprisingly, seemed to have a much more negative reaction from Consumerists).

      I understand that when I enter McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts, I’m not going to eat healthy. But, as some others have mentioned, I’m not cool with thinking to myself “Since I have to eat here, I’ll be as good as possible and get the salad (or bagel) instead of the burger (or donut),” when it turns out that the ‘healthier’ choice wasn’t healthier at all.

  10. Anonymous says:

    NYC requires nutritional information (for chain restaurants)… and it is amazing!! If I ever find myself outside of the city eating at a chain, I feel a little lost, unable to find out how many calories are in the grossness that I am about to order. I am a huge supporter of posting calorie counts on the menus!

  11. HawkWolf says:

    Don’t we have FDA requirements for food items that you buy in a store? Do you get mad when they require that ketchup has a calorie count? Why is a chain restaurant different? (Why is any restaurant different, I guess you can say, although chains tend to have internal specific requirements for their franchises/outlets to make everything the same.)

  12. jbrecken says:

    Why is it only chains that need this? Indepent restaurants don’t serve food with calories?

    • Zorks says:

      @jbrecken: I’m assuming that the reason why is that it would create undue financial hardship for small restaurants to test and calculate the caloric content of their meals (not to mention an independent restaurant is more likely to change their menu often). Larger chains can absorb the cost more easily.

    • Anonymous says:

      @jbrecken: “Why is it only chains that need this? Indepent restaurants don’t serve food with calories?”

      Independent restaurants don’t develop national menus with the help of food chemists.

      • ARP says:

        @OsmondJagar: In addition to what others have said, I think there’s a certain assumption that if you have more than X stores, you can afford the signage and administration of doing it.

    • DrGirlfriend says:

      @jbrecken: My theory: I think it’s because chain restaurants make food that is very specifically made (like, strict regulations from HQ about how much to use, etc), while smaller, independent places would not have that. When food is not made in such an assembly-line fashion, the end product will not be exactly the same every time and therefore calculating specific amounts of calories is harder.

    • ncpeters says:

      @jbrecken: In addition to what the prior poster said, it would be a greater financial hardship for a one-store, independent restaurant to have to pay to have all their menu items tested for content.

    • mmmsoap says:

      @jbrecken: Most chains “cook” the majority of their food in factory settings, then ship it out to the franchises to be heated and served. There’s little in terms of fresh food, and thus little variation, in terms of serving size and nutrient density for these chain restaurants.

      Small/independent restaurants actually make their food on site, so it varies much more from serving to serving.

      Case in point — my McDonald’s burger is pre-measured in the factory, but when I order from the local sub shop, I check to see who’s working before deciding. One of the guys loads about twice as much meat into the sandwhich as the others.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I don’t see this being easy to execute but I think it’s a great idea to have this information available at the point of purchase. Fast food doesn’t have to be bad for you and perhaps this will inspire fast food chains to cut out some fat and calories where they can without adversely affecting taste. Ultimately it’s up to individuals to consume an appropriate amount of calories and the responsibility is their own not the fast food restaurants. However, this should make it easier to make informed decisions for those so inclined.

  14. Easton21 says:

    I’m all for this rule. That way I can stop myself from eating something that logically has 300 calories but that Chili’s somehow managed to bloat into 750.
    Seriously, I think we all underestimate just how oily and bad normal food is from a restaurant.

  15. DrGirlfriend says:

    I’m an Oregon resident and I am happy about this. I have used calorie counting as a weight loss/management tool, and I have found that a lot of times I have to chase down information way more than I think I should have to. Plus anything that requires companies to be more transparent about their products is a good thing, in my book.

    And yes, I know chain restaurants have high calorie foods. This always comes up when this topic is discussed, but what also comes up is the rebuttal to that point. And yet, some people keep advocating for less nutritional info. I eat at a chain restaurant every now and then, whether it be out of convenience or necessity. At least now I can make an informed decision as to what to eat there. And if I decide to spend half my day’s calories on a Big Mac, I can make that decision knowing exactly how much I’ll be consuming.

    • Rhayader says:

      @DrGirlfriend: Nobody is “advocating for less nutritional info”. I don’t think anybody is intent on preventing a business to divulge that information.

      The question is whether or not we should force them to include it. Many of us would prefer a free market solution (ie, many people want to know calorie counts, Restaurant X posts them, more people buy from Restaurant X, so the strategy of nutritional labeling is eventually seen as a success).

      It comes down to how much controlling ability we want to provide to the government in the affairs of private businesses.

      • Red_Flag says:

        @Rhayader: Yes, yes you are advocating for less nutritional info. The calories one ingests are as much a “cost” to the consumer as is the dollar amount. The free market ONLY works when both sides can make an informed decision as to whether or not the exchange they are considering is satisfactory. When one side has a disproportionate information advantage, the market is not acting freely.

        More information = more freedom.

        Of course, if you REALLY wanted to fight against gov’t controlling ability in the oh-so-sacrosanct affairs of private business, you could always argue for the repeal of any and all truth-in-advertising or bait-and-switch laws. Or the dissolution of the FDA.

        Just sayin’.

        • Red_Flag says:

          @Red_Flag: Edit: I mean “you” as in generic, “he-who-is-arguing-that-this-informational-requirement-is-an-excessive-burden” is advocating for less nutritional info. As elsewhere stated, you as in Rhayader has said that this is does not seem excessive. So, this missive is not directed at you as in Rhyader, but you as in… well, already explained above.

          • Rhayader says:

            @Red_Flag: Haha, hey I’m not necessarily against looking at disbanding the FDA. They aren’t an unmitigated disaster, but they aren’t exactly a shining star either.

            And my point was that, in a free market, businesses would have a financial incentive to openly provide information (that is, assuming customers actually wanted it). If you, as a customer, want to patronize business you feel treat you well by communicating effectively, you will do so.

            In other words, effective and open communication can be viewed as simply another kind of cream that should be allowed to rise to the top.

            • mmmsoap says:

              @Rhayader:

              And my point was that, in a free market, businesses would have a financial incentive to openly provide information (that is, assuming customers actually wanted it). If you, as a customer, want to patronize business you feel treat you well by communicating effectively, you will do so.

              So yes, ideally businesses would feel the consumer “pressure” to provide a service such as this…except no one does it now, so consumers don’t have the option to avoid one business (that doesn’t provide the info) and patronize another one (that does). I would love to see what happens after the Oregon and Mass laws are enacted and have had a chance to build consumer responses…will that affect consumer demand in other states?

  16. ajlei says:

    I’m glad for this. Unfortunately it doesn’t kick in until January 2011 but I guess a year and a half isn’t very long to implement all these changes. I’ve been trying to eat healthier and although I rarely eat out, it will be nice to have some sort of reference when I do.

  17. applesanity says:

    I can’t help but feel like this legislation is dumb. I may be out on limb here but I’ve always been taught to understand that fast food cheeseburgers = bad for you. Actually, fast food in general = bad for you. Restaurants that serve gargantuan portions and heavy pastas = bad for you. The chinese takeout with deep-fried everything = bad for you.

    Those metric tons of human mass that go to the drive thrus should already know this fact of life. Telling them that the super-size french fries is gonna cost them 3,000 calories probably won’t dissuade them. You can’t legislate away stupidity and gluttony.

    • Kaellorian says:

      @applesanity: I’d agree, generally. I’m thinking that it does more to address the societal development of faster food replacing home cooked meals because we’re all too busy on our blackberries and at soccer practice – when fast food has to become quotidian, perhaps the nutritional info should be more readily available for those that don’t have the time to cook for themselves but nevertheless don’t want to eat complete garbage.

    • floraposte says:

      @applesanity: And now you can know when it’s bowl of salad=bad for you and bowl of soup=bad for you, which is news to a lot of people.

  18. Josh Saint Jacque says:

    Not to nit pick but Washington State also has this requirement.

    • Paladin_11 says:

      @Josh Saint Jacque: Yes, and imagine my surprise when I was given a separate menu containing the nutritional information at a Red Robin in Seattle last week. And read it.

      The horror… the horror…

  19. Javert says:

    What a waste of time. People will still eat there because it is cheap and tastes good. Eating there once a month will not hurt you if you are a calorie counter. This is so asinine. So the frois gras at the expensive restaurant is good for you? Why is this limited to chain restaurants then?

    • Rhayader says:

      @Javert: Yeah the limitation to chain restaurants doesn’t really seem fair. Some have pointed out that the food at a chain place is so standardized and pre-defined, while some mom-and-pop places never make a meal the same way twice. Another argument I read was that independent places may not be able to afford the testing needed to define the caloric content of their menu.

      I suppose these ideas carry some merit, but it still seems to me like uneven enforcement of the concept.

    • floraposte says:

      @Javert: Eating the fat thing that looks diety twelve times a year can mean a few extra pounds, though. Why not give people the information to make their choice more intelligently?

    • pepelicious says:

      @Javert:

      The sad part is that for many, fast food chains are the only option if you only have a few bucks a day to spend on food for your family. Now, on top of feeling bad for being poor, you’re reminded that you’re eating really unhealthy food. Great job! I totally agree that if chain restaurants are forced to display this information, then every restaurant must as well.

  20. Trickman2 says:

    I think this is a good step for allowing everyone to have the nutritional information available for a healthy lifestyle. If you chose to have a healthy lifestyle that is your choice, but at least you have the facts in front of you to make the choice. It is a simple fact that most people ignore the facts because they are out of sight and out of mind. This will also get fast food restaurants producing healthier products. I have been to several fast food restaurant where I requested a nutritional pamphlet and it was unavailable. This just gives the restaurants no excuse for not having the data available.

  21. pepelicious says:

    I guess it’s a good idea on paper. Maybe fast food chains will see people choosing lower calorie/fat items and skew their menu toward those options.

    While this would be great, we can’t confuse “lower calories/fat” with “healthy”. I don’t even want to imagine what they’d have to do to a cheesy double beef burrito to make it lower in calories, and still taste the same. I’d imagine it doing a lot more harm to me than if I just ate the normal, high calorie, version.

    If people really want to eat a healthy meal, why even go to a fast food chain? Cook your own meals and make sure you have a good balance of vegetables, protien, and carbohydrates.

  22. TWSS says:

    Will this apply to Starbucks beverages, too? I’m looking forward to the moue of dismay on my coworkers’ faces the next time someone orders a Frappucino.

  23. smonkey says:

    Here’s the flip side of this no one seems to mention. Most people have no realistic idea how much work it takes to burn off A Calorie. If fatso sits on a couch all day watching TV and doesn’t move accept to go to McDs and get 4 quarter pounders (400 Cal each ) he’s well with in the 2000 Calorie a day diet.

    Except he’s still gaining weight because he’s body only burns 1000 Calories a day.

    Nutrition is far more complicated than calories. Even Fat, and sodium and all that doesn’t give the FULL picture.

  24. Thomas Check says:

    California has a law for this? Since when? I have seen boards in McDonalds/Burger King (not the MAIN menu board), but that’s about it. I once asked for nutritional information at a fast food chain and the guy said “I have completely no idea what you’re talking about.” And I have never seen calorie labels on drive-thru menu signs (unless they were purposely promoting the fact that a certain menu item was “low cal”).

  25. Bog says:

    Interestingly the company cafeteria where I work lists all the calorie, fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc. on all the food and meals it sells. They make a point of trying to sell what they call “healthy offerings.” They’ve directed the contractor to try to reduce “unhealthy” food. Yeah it’s kinda’ bland for my preference but they are subsiding it.

    For the fast food chains, the county here just passed a law like this too. A few chains balked but the alternative to complying was would be a red-tag from the health dept.

    I was pretty dismayed by how many calories some of these fast food meals contained.

  26. Justifan says:

    the california law just shows how pointless it is, no one cares, its just an epic waste of ink.
    a burger is fatty? no @#% sh*t. if you are so dense you don’t know this then frankly the table of numbers and facts on the side of your food wrapper is going to look like klingon to you anyways.

  27. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    I believe the Checkers’ snipe should be removed.
    [www.checkers.com]
    Either (1) It’s old news or (2) The “View Nutritional Information” button is confusing.

    Yes, I know, it’s all pretty bad, but ALL fast food is pretty bad.

    Actually, if you like eating or drinking something, I’m sure some doctor/agency/pundit will tell you it’s bad for ya!