To Be or Not to Be?
Show and Tell or Go with the Status Quo?
More than ever before, Americans want to make informed choices about issues related to health and wellness for themselves and their families. The obesity epidemic, concern about hormones and other food additives, and other health concerns related to diet have garnered top-of-mind awareness with consumers. This enlightened attitude poses a fundamental question for restaurant operators: How transparent should you be in terms of sourcing ingredients, nutritional composition of menu items and overall operational practices?
Some people take umbrage with the government dictating mandates on how a business operates. Others maintain that the Food & Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal organizations have contributed greatly to societal safety and environmental sustainability. It’s up to each independent operator and decision makers at multi-unit corporations to decide what is beneficial and appropriate for their particular circumstances. They will soon learn whether their customer base agrees with their decision.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact that the farm-to-table movement has had on the restaurant industry since its genesis. What began with the incomparable Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and other like-minded chefs in the 1980s spread like wildfire across the country, and shows no signs of diminishing all these years later. The public, for the most part, wants to know from where their food came. Mention of the word “local” is synonymous with quality and freshness. The term “locally sourced” represents supporting one’s own community. Though the term is not federally defined, it beneficially enhances a restaurant’s image. Thus, it’s likely quite a smart move to list local sources on your menu if you use them. People really do consider the source.
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
How many times have you walked down the aisles of your local supermarket, and seen shoppers reading the Nutrition Facts label on packages? People want to know what they are eating, and what they are serving to their families. Nutritional labels were mandated on most packaged foods in the 1990s with the enactment of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act.
Food allergies, celiac disease and other health concerns have prompted food manufacturers to include more details on packaging than ever before. It could easily be a matter of life or death for someone with a severe nut allergy to
miss the package disclaimer “Made in a facility that processes peanuts.”
More and more, responsible foodservice operators are paying close attention to potential health hazards, and use their menus to deliver important ingredient information to their patrons. A practice as seemingly benign as using peanut oil for food prep could have dire results, and could possibly result in costly litigation. We are seeing more and more menu options that are listed as “gluten-free,” “heart-friendly,” “vegetarian” and “vegan.”
FDA Menu Labeling Rules
Independent restaurants and chains with under 20 units are exempt from the Food and Drug Administration’s Menu Labeling Rules, which larger chains are MANDATED to comply with by December 1, 2016. This begs the question: Should independents and small chains voluntarily comply with the new rules, even though they are not required to do so?
Hypothetically, here are some reasons to do so:
- Restaurant patrons who frequent the larger chains will soon become accustomed to reading the menu nutrition facts, and expect to see this information wherever they dine.
- Restaurants can enhance their image by demonstrating to customers that they care about their health and well-being.
- Including nutritional information on the menu or as a menu insert will streamline the ordering process for waitstaff.
Visit www.servsafe.com for The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s food allergen training course.
The National Restaurant Association has information on menu labeling at
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