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Menu Transparency - An editorial perspective By Meg McDonough

publication date: Feb 17, 2014
author/source: Meg McDonough

Menu Transparency   – Coming to a Hotel Near You

By Meg McDonough


Under the new legislation, restaurants will be required to display calorie information for standard menu items as well as calories for each serving of food at a salad bar or a buffet line (e.g., LTO’s – fast food and chain restaurants). The chains will not have to post calorie information for daily specials and limited-time items. Consumers want to know what they’re eating, and the recently passed healthcare bill mandates such disclosure. Restaurants with 20+ units are now required to list calorie counts on their menus. Consumers seem happy with the impending disclosure, as 61% agree that restaurants should post nutritional information, like calorie counts and fat grams, on menus. More cities will start forcing restaurants to visibly display their letter grades from local health departments, further increasing menu transparency.

Bistro-style operations within a hotel lobby fall into this category and, as such, the Courtyard by Marriott chains within the U.S. have begun to include calorie count postings to their menus. According to a Lon Southerland, director of global food and beverage operations for Marriott International, the postings did not have an impact on their sales. Perhaps, if Courtyard's program proves successful, more hotel chains will follow along and make caloric content information readily available. But, at what point will hotels be enlisted to comply and what type of sanctions might be considered?

What type of feedback have you received from your customers and management on this issue? It would seem that having federally mandated requirements to post calorie counts on your hotel menu can have a multitude of results: Beneficial in that you are educating the consumer (your hotel guest) on what choices they will have in selecting certain food items from your menu; however, in the obverse situation, you would be pairing back on items which your dining patrons may wish they could have but find they cannot.

There has been extensive blogging on this subject and the term “nanny state” comes rapidly to mind. An understandable commentary, yet doesn’t your dining patron have the freedom to chose whatever they want from your well-designed menu without adding the guilt factor to it – and, therefore, possibly losing a repeat visit to your establishment? An obvious alternative would be the inclusion of a brief clause making note of your heart-healthy choices available on the menu while noting that the chef has prepared the menu in accordance to FDA guidelines.

At some point, in my opinion, one has to allow the consumer the choice to chose – not demand consumers to change their behavior on what they should or should not eat. Perhaps calorie count menus will be considered the norm when freedom to dine becomes synonymous with freedom of speech.

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