After more than 10 years of planning, menu labeling is the law of the land. Cicely Simpson, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of public affairs, explains what it means for our industry and guests, and our role in helping the government shape the rule to benefit everyone:
What it means: Starting May 7, federal law requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calories on their menus. Nutrition information will now be available at more than 200,000 restaurant locations nationwide.
Why it’s important: In the United States, the average consumer eats and drinks about a third of their calories away from home, so this law is a huge win for everyone. Not only will it help Americans make better choices when they dine out, it also represents a powerful example of government and industry working together to benefit those we serve.
How it came together: Recognizing in 2008 that federal guidance was long overdue, our industry began working with lawmakers and more than 70 public health and business groups to advance national menu-labeling guidelines to provide clarity for restaurant operators and consumers alike. After more than two years of work, the guidelines passed in 2010, but our work didn’t end there. We needed to keep working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as they wrote the final rules to improve and protect them against attempts to weaken them.
The result: By working with our industry, the government addressed the areas of greatest concern and provided restaurants with the ability to implement the law in a way that positively affects customers and their dining experience. It also will help avoid costly litigation and unnecessary delays.
The return on investment: Restaurant owners and operators have invested a lot of time, effort and money in implementing this law. Those required to comply will need to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and drive-thru displays. They also will have to provide other nutritional information to customers. The fact is that many of our members have already taken the steps to be in full compliance with the law, ahead of the May 7 deadline.
The end is a new beginning: Because of federal law, we will not return to the piecemeal approach of years past, where menu-labeling laws passed on a state-by-state or city-by city basis and in some cases, by county. For some business owners, this meant designing different menus to accommodate different jurisdictions. That is no longer the case.
Choice. It’s what’s for dinner: For restaurateurs, the goal every day is to provide the best service to customers. Now, after a decade of hard work, diners from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, will have a new tool to help them make the right choices for themselves. As any chef will tell you, a good meal is worth the wait.