Earlier this year, a new law requiring restaurants to list calorie counts next to menu items finally took effect. We told you about the effort, which was part of the Affordable Care Act that passed in 2010. Sit down restaurants and fast food chains alike worked to push implementation of the menu labeling requirements off past the scheduled 2014 date, but now any restaurant with more than 20 locations should have those details available.
One of the big questions surrounding the new law was if it would really affect anyone's ordering decision. Turns out, yes, having the calorie count on a menu in front of you when you order really does make a difference.
The custom signage company Signs.com surveyed 600 American diners on their behavior as influenced by a theoretical restaurant menu. As far as having a calorie count on a menu, both men and women gave the information a strong thumbs up. 70.5 percent of women and 62.9 percent of men believe that calorie counts should be posted on the menu.
But the survey data becomes more interesting when looking at how many people actually used the calorie count information when making their order decision. One of the arguments against the move was that even if people noticed the calorie count on a menu, they wouldn't use the information to order something different.
However, the numbers show that people not only pay attention to the new information, they use it to choose something with fewer calories. 80.2 percent of women and 71.7 percent of men said they pay attention to the calorie count on a menu, while 54.7 percent of women and 46.1 percent of men said they changed their order after reviewing the calorie counts.
The law also requires grocery stores, convenience stores, and movie theaters that sell prepared food to list a calorie count on a menu. There's no data yet on whether the information is causing consumers to make a different choice (we all recognize that butter on movie popcorn is hard to pass up).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of helping businesses implement the new law and part of their process is educating business owners on ways to meet the new rule, such as showing calorie information on a menu board inside a fast food or pizza delivery location instead of on a printed menu.
One other interesting thing the survey found was that it's not just calories that affect menu decision making. People look for descriptions about sustainability and healthiness. What that means is restaurant chains like McDonald's, Panera, and Starbucks who are listing nutrition information past just calorie counts are leading in the effort to get customers the information they really want.