“While federal menu-labeling standards would unify a hodgepodge of local and state ordinances, restaurant operators will confront issues including costs associated with redesign and installation, overcrowded menu listings and customers coming face-to-face with their caloric intake before ordering.
Congressional leaders recently introduced the Labeling Education and Nutrition, or Lean, Act that would create a uniform standard requiring restaurants and grocery chains with more than 20 locations that serve prepared food to post calories on menus and menu boards.
Several national chains and the industry's largest trade group have thrown their weight behind the bill. Yum Brands Inc. has said it would voluntarily post calories on menu boards at company-owned restaurants by 2011.
The federal legislation follows similar menu-labeling laws passed in California, New York City and other places in recent months.
While some restaurant operators oppose additional regulation, having one standard for their menus and menu boards would solve a major concern: having different variations of laws aimed at providing nutritional information to customers.
"Imagine running a national chain and having 30 or 50 different menu-disclosure requirements," said Dennis Lombardi, a restaurant consultant with WD Partners. "Having to create space and produce these variations would become a nightmare." . . .
In New York, which passed a law requiring calorie counts to be displayed more prominently, consumers have changed their consumption habits. According to a survey by restaurant research firm Technomic Inc., most customers are either buying lower-calorie alternatives or cutting out certain items altogether.
Calorie-disclosure laws could have the most negative impact on casual-dining chains. Diners may be more aware that fast-food chains have a bevy of high-calorie meal options, but may be surprised to learn how many calories are in some casual-dining offerings, according to Buckingham Research Group analyst Mitchell J. Speiser.