NYC operators: Posting alcoholic beverages’ calorie counts anything but neat

NYC operators: Posting alcoholic beverages’ calorie counts anything but neat

NEW YORK —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

The menu-labeling rule, which was adopted in a unanimous vote by the city’s Board of Health in January, requires all restaurant chains with 15 outlets anywhere to post disclose the calories of all items, including beverages, on menus, menu boards or food tags at their New York locations. While alcoholic beverages were not singled out in the rule, neither were they excluded, city officials said. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“The rule covers all menu items and does not exclude alcoholic beverages,” said Gabriel Taussig, the city’s attorney. “It doesn’t talk about any particular type of food item, it talks about all items on the menu.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

All spirits, wine and mixed drinks fall under the mandate’s requirements, Taussig said. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Operators in the Seattle area will face even stricter hurdles when a King County law goes into effect Aug. 1 requiring chains that have at least 10 locations anywhere and annual sales of at least $1 million to post calorie data, as well as information on trans-fat, saturated-fat, carbohydrates and sodium content on menus and menu boards. As in New York, alcoholic beverages are included in the county’s law. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“Alcoholic beverages are being treated like any other beverages under the requirement, so they have to have their calorie content listed,” said Dr. Lynn Silvers, assistant health commissioner for the New York Board of Health. “This regulation is aimed at protecting consumers. If alcoholic beverages contribute to caloric intake, [consumers] should be aware how much.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Sarah Markdt, a spokeswoman with the health department, said the regulation focused on chain restaurants because “they have very standardized menus, preparations and portion sizes that make it very easy and feasible for them to list calorie information.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Foodservice industry members, nonetheless, claim they were caught off guard by the inclusion of alcoholic beverages. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“This is just getting out of hand, it really is,” said Rick Sampson, president and chief executive of the New York State Restaurant Association [3]. “When we looked at the proposal and ran it by counsel, nothing specifically said anything about alcoholic beverages. Whose interpretation this is is beyond us, but it opens up a whole other set of problems we are trying to get clarification on.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Part of the misunderstanding may stem from the menu-labeling rule’s history. An earlier version of the mandate, which was set to go into effect last summer, was struck down last year by a federal judge as discriminatory because it applied only to restaurants that already disclosed calorie information on websites or brochures, namely, fast-food outlets where alcoholic beverages are not available. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Sampson, whose organization was instrumental in striking down the city’s earlier menu-labeling rule, expected to return to court Feb. 21 to challenge the current menu-labeling mandate. He mused, however, that if the court upholds the new rule, it would hit high-end steakhouse operators the hardest. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“What do you do with a wine list?” he asked. “Let’s talk about Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris [4]. I don’t know how they’re going to do it. How will they standardize a glass of red wine? You know, every year a bottle of wine changes. Nobody thinks these things through. They’ve opened a whole other set of issues for the restaurant industry to deal with. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“We’re now getting calls from operators asking what to do. Do you go back to your distributor or wholesaler or manufacturer of wine? Who’s going to analyze it and who’s going to pay for that? Can you imagine the cost of having to open a bottle of each wine to measure the caloric content? When wine ages are there more calories in it? Who the hell knows? This is an area no one has looked into, and this information is supposed to be ready by March 31.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

At Chicago-based Morton’s Restaurant Group [5] Inc., Roger Drake, vice president of communications, said the company “heard this piece about alcoholic beverages, but we’re still learning information about it.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“There are so many moving parts, and we’re in the process of fact finding right now,” he said. “We’re going to comply; we just need to know what to do. Like other New York City restaurants, we’re still learning what the implications of these new postings are…and where the postings are to be properly positioned in our restaurants so that we will be in full compliance.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Addressing the concern and confusion of restaurateurs surrounding the calorie postings of wine in particular, assistant health commissioner Silvers said the department would follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration rounding rules, which accept a measurement rounded off to the nearest 10. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“Wine is not going to vary that much,” she said. “In fact, we are not going to be requiring lab analysis for wines. Nutrition database figures are acceptable, and there are a number of sources that are recognized. There is no requirement to have any food or beverage analyzed under the law. The information can come from any reasonable sources.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Silvers added that any special beverages sold for less than 30 days would not require caloric content posting. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

According to health department spokeswoman Markdt, the city remains convinced that the latest menu-labeling mandate will enable consumers to maintain a more healthful lifestyle as well as cut obesity rates and related chronic health disorders, such as diabetes and heart disease. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“Chain restaurants enjoy a large share of customer traffic, around 35 percent, so when we look at the big picture of what the calorie impact on this city will be, we estimate that 150,000 New Yorkers will be less obese and that there will be 35,000 less cases of diabetes,” Markdt said. “We are just giving information to people so they can make informed decisions.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Frank Guidara, president and chief executive of the 200-unit Uno Chicago Grill [6] dinnerhouse chain, said he “understands the whole obesity issue, but you can’t legislate common sense.” He added that if the mandate was made out of concern for consumers, “the information should be available anywhere they go,” including at independent establishments. —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“Let’s be open to having information available, but require everyone to make it available,” he said. “This is a clear example of something that should have been stopped and made realistic. [The city] should come up with a realistic solution to the problem, but this isn’t it.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

Guidara added that Boston-based Uno, whose alcoholic offerings generate about 18 percent of sales annually, intends to comply with the law at the chain’s nine New York City branches, though that would be a “matter of money.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.

“We could do it tomorrow; it would just cost more,” he said. “We can do it, put the calories down. Beer information is available and we can list a 6-ounce wine pour. It’s just like listing a recipe.” —As chain operators here grapple with the logistics of posting calorie counts of menu items by March 31, they also are confronting an unforeseen complication of the city’s new law—how best to disclose that data on lists offering wines, beers and cocktails.