The United States Food and Drug Administration today announced its new rules that will require restaurant chains to post the calorie counts
of their menu items on the menus themselves. Up until now, many restaurants have gotten around publication requirements by making calorie counts and other nutritional information either available by request on under-the-counter handouts, or by burying them under small links on their websites.
When governments first started requiring calorie count disclosure, some restaurants did publish the numbers on their menus, only to see sales decline as consumers stopped ordering high-calorie gut-busters. So restaurants starting looking for ways to publish the numbers in ways that most customers wouldn't ever see them.
Many restaurant menus will need to start listing calorie counts along with prices. But theme parks might not have to.
The FDA made a point in its announcement today of stating that "(t)he menu labeling rule also includes food facilities in entertainment venue chains such as movie theaters and amusement parks." But it's difficult to envision which theme park restaurant actually will end up having to display calorie counts on their menus, given the other conditions in the new rules. As the FDA press release states:
"The menu labeling final rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items."
I can't think of a single theme or amusement park chain in the United States that operates a food service facility that would meet those requirements. Not even Six Flags has 20 of the same restaurant locations across its chain, using the same name and serving the same menu. Even if a park chain did have that many identical restaurants, it simply could change of their names in an effort to get around the new requirements. If the FDA wants to consider entire parks as a "location," again, not even Six Flags has 20 parks across the country. Only if the FDA considered all of a chain's restaurants together could a theme park chain be subject to the 20-location condition, but again, those locations would be operating under different names and with different menus.
Where might theme park visitors see calorie counts on menus in parks, then? Perhaps at counter-service stands branded to outside fast-food chains such as Subway and Panda Express. But one wonders if Disney's Starbucks locations would be subject to the new rules, as they operate in the parks under unique names. Sure, there's a discreet Starbucks sign at the entrance and logos on the cups, but a lawyer could earn a few billable hours making an argument that those different names exempt the locations.
Ultimately, though, if the new FDA rule manages to change consumer behavior, as it is intended to do, theme parks might need to go ahead and start listing calorie counts anyway. If consumers come to expect to see the numbers next to selections outside theme parks, they might start demanding to see the same inside the parks, too. At some point it would be easier just to list the calories (and put out a self-congratulatory press release) than to deal with a persistent queue of complaints at guest relations.
Qualifying restaurants will have one year to start complying with the new requirements.
Do you want to see calorie counts and nutritional information before you make a decision about which food to order? Tell us in the comments.