If you were thinking that posting calorie counts on menus was good for business, you’re wrong. It doesn’t hurt business, mind you, but it’s not necessarily helping restaurants compete in an increasingly health-conscious country. At least not directly.
A recent study found that most customers simply ignore calorie counts in restaurants like McDonald’s, which have voluntarily been sharing that information on their menus for a few years now. New York City has had a law in place for a while which required any restaurant with at least 15 stores to post the calorie counts for meals on the menu, and a national mandate will require the same of chains with 20 or more stores in the next year or so.
Those rules are designed to help customers make informed choices in the hope that they’ll choose healthier options, but it doesn’t seem to be working that way. Fast food customers, at least, don’t seem to be as concerned with health as a deciding factor when they’re choosing what to eat. At least not on-site.
But there is an effect: restaurants that post calorie counts tend to offer lower-calorie options than their competitors that don’t. Presumably, those chains are trying to make their options more palatable to a health-conscious public, which might, in the long run, actually make those choices healthier. The study showed that restaurants that posted calories offered meals that were, on average, 120 calories less than equivalent meals at competing restaurants.
As posted calorie counts become mandatory, people will start to notice, whether they care or not, and companies that have been doing this for a while will likely be ahead of the game with at least marginally healthier options for their customers. Those healthier options might translate into more sales, but that remains to be seen.