By Joan Lang
This time, it almost sounds like a joke. Beverages under 25 calories. Air-popped popcorn for celebrations, instead of cake. No French fries, ever. So say new “guidelines” for employees of New York City’s Department of Health, an organization that has already distinguished itself as the ultimate mouthpiece of the nanny state. With the city’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, on a crusade to reduce New Yorkers’ consumption of salt, fat and alcohol—not to mention cigarettes—you have to wonder if the next proscription for the City that Never Sleeps will be caffeine.
Bloomberg and New York City have been way ahead of the curve on the issue of restaurants posting calorie counts, and the industry has been watching closely to judge the impact of the move, which became effective just about exactly three years ago, on April 21, 2008.
Early studies indicated that customers were not about to change their habits, and now, on the eve of new FDA rules that will affect chain restaurants nationwide, the results are no more compelling. Why, then, all the kerfuffle?
The restaurant industry is nothing if not responsive to its customer base, and customers have been insisting with increasing vigor that they want healthier options at restaurants, even if they don’t actually order them when they get there.
A number of chains have actually been quite enthusiastic about offering so-called better-for-you choices, among them Wendy’s push for salads, Hardee’s new under 500-calorie turkey burgers, and Applebee’s longstanding commitment to both Weight Watchers and a growing roster of choices containing fewer than 550 calories.
Interestingly, a new study from NPD also indicates that customers who ordered these kinds of options spent less when ordering off a menu with calories displayed–$6.20 versus $6.40 on average, although this could be the result of ordering smaller portion sizes. All of which again points to the need for the foodservice industry to just roll with it.