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The dos and don'ts of menu labeling

Operators offer tips during MUFSO panel

As chain restaurants across the country prepare to comply with a new federal menu-labeling mandate, operators offered tips for how to get ready during a session at the Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators conference this week.

Jeffrey Whitlow, vice president of R&D Nutritional Information Service, moderated a panel discussion with Kix McGinnis Nystrom, vice president of kitchen operations at The Cheesecake Factory, and Mike Lester, senior vice president of operations for The Melting Pot.

Whitlow noted that Nystrom looked like he was “going to break down in tears” when he first saw the compiled calorie counts that NIS calculated for The Cheesecake Factory. Nystrom got over it, however, and The Cheesecake Factory responded with a new line of small plates.

Lester said he has been getting a lot of customer requests for nutritional information and that he was concerned about what he’d learn. But was surprised that the numbers were better than expected.

To help others prepare for the realities of menu labeling, Nystrom and Lester offered tips:

Nystrom:
Do include different departments when working on nutrition disclosure.
Do make sure your purchasers are really paying attention to the products. If they change a product, you need to be notified so you can change the nutritional information.
Do understand regional laws.
Do teach your staff anything they need to know so they can discuss the menu-labeling information with your guests.
Do make sure your menus are concise and all cooking procedures are followed.
Don’t wait. Calculate your dishes.

Lester:
Do make sure your menu is large enough to include calories. He noted that The Melting Pot moved to a bigger format, from letter- to legal-size paper.
Do start playing with the layout now, even if you don’t have all the calorie information calculated.
Do be careful of what brands you are using because the numbers can vary significantly from those of similar products made by different manufacturers.
Do be really specific about what items your operators can buy.
Do ask for all the nutritional information before you sign a contract to buy a new product so you get it quickly.
Do be organized with specific recipes.
Don’t work in vacuum; work with your various teams.
Don’t procrastinate.

Contact Pamela Parseghian at [email protected]

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