6 Steps: Countdown to Menu Labeling

6 Steps: Countdown to Menu Labeling

By Anita Jones-Mueller, MPH, President, Healthy Dining and Sara Lucero
August 26, 2016
 
Menu labeling legislation is looming, and restaurants nationwide with 20 or more units are moving to comply by the May 5, 2017 deadline.  While some restaurants may be finalizing procedures and celebrating compliance ahead of schedule, many are now getting started on the lengthy process.  The question is: What is the most efficient way to get it done?
 
“It almost always takes more time than you expect to make sure everything is accurate and ready to incorporate onto menus and menu boards,” says Mary Parsons, MS, RD, culinary dietitian at Healthy Dining. “There is time needed to make sure the recipes are accurate, to gather product labels from suppliers and for quality assurance and verification. To avoid being held up by unexpected roadblocks, it’s safest for restaurants to start nutrition analysis projects several months in advance of the date that you plan to print.”
 
With less than a year now remaining before compliance is necessary, Healthy Dining’s team recommends restaurants break the process down into the following steps to make the countdown to compliance a strategic process that won’t sacrifice accuracy or guest trust.
 
  1. Complete or verify menu nutrition analysis.
  • If you’re starting from scratch, working with a restaurant nutrition expert to analyze your recipes, the first step in menu analysis will be finalizing your standardized recipes and then completing nutrition analysis of all standard menu items. 
  • If you already have nutrition information for standard menu items, now is the time to confirm the accuracy of the existing analysis.  Recipes, ingredients and even suppliers change frequently, affecting the accuracy of your restaurant’s nutrition information.  Guests and inspectors will both expect accurate and complete information readily available by the May 5, 2017 compliance deadline.

  1. Re-design menus and menu boards.
‚ÄčOnce you have accurate and complete nutrition information for your standard menu items, determine how best to incorporate the required calorie information and statements into your menus and menu boards.  From your basic offerings to variable menu items and beverages, menu labeling regulations are very specific in how calorie information must be posted. Review the FDA rules for presenting this information and/or work with a vendor well-versed in the requirements to help ensure accuracy and compliance.
 
  1. Determine how to present additional required information.
Calories on the menu is just one piece of the compliance puzzle. Whether it’s a binder, brochure or iPad, presenting the additional required nutrition information will look different for each restaurant.  Take a close look at your processes and procedures to determine the best long term solution for maintaining accurate information.  If print is the best route for your brand, design presentation materials. If technology is the best route, begin researching solutions.
 
  1. Print new menus and materials.
Menus, menu boards, brochures, binders and similar materials will need to be printed with calories, required statements and additional nutrients.
 
  1. Distribute new materials to locations.
Once printing is complete, make sure that each location has the most current and accurate materials on site. This may include menus and menu boards with calories and required statements, brochures with additional information, and signed statements. If you do not already have a process in place, determine how to maintain accurate materials required for menu labeling compliance at all locations moving forward. 
 
  1. Train staff.
Determining a plan for training location-level management, BOH and FOH on the basics of the regulations and staff roles in compliance is essential to maintaining compliance. Whether you create an internal training program or rely on a third-party training program, ensure that every member of your restaurant’s staff understands his or her role in maintaining and providing accurate nutrition information.

The menu labeling clock is ticking down, and restaurants nationwide are moving to comply.  If you are just beginning on the process, don’t wait!  Start moving forward now to meet the May 5, 2017 menu labeling compliance deadline.