Menu Labeling Q & A: Time is Running Out

Menu Labeling Q & A: Time is Running Out If you are covered by menu labeling regulations, you probably know that come May 5, 2017, you will be required to post calories on your menu and/or menu board and provide full nutrition profiles (e.g., sodium, carbohydrates, protein, etc.) for every menu item at every location – always accurate and up-to-date. With the busy holiday season in sight and news of slowing restaurant sales, getting nutrition information for your menu may be the last thing on your mind, so here is some information to help you get ready and move forward:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published in May its final guidance on menu labeling, “A Labeling Guide for Restaurants and Retail Establishments Selling Away-From-Home Foods – Part II (Menu Labeling Requirements in Accordance with 21 CFR 101.11).” Healthy Dining’s culinary dietitians have delved into these guidelines and are working closely with many restaurants to help them better understand the requirements and what steps are necessary prior to the looming May 5, 2017, deadline, in order to offer accurate nutrition information.

There are just about six months left to comply and plenty to accomplish in that time.  Here are some of the most common menu labeling questions we are hearing from restaurants as time ticks down:

Q: What is menu labeling?
With so many other changes going on in the restaurant industry this year, including changes in overtime rules, the tipping debate, sodium labeling and the apparent slowdown in sales for many restaurants that is turning up in headlines – menu labeling and the nutrition analysis it may require has flown under the radar for many brands. 

If you are a restaurant with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items, you will be required to add calories on menus and make additional nutrition information available on site to your guests.  Restaurants with fewer locations but plans to grow should also be familiar with menu labeling regulations and how to comply.  Now is the time to make menu labeling compliance a priority!

Q: My restaurant is required to comply with the menu labeling regulations, but where do we begin?
Once you’ve determined that your restaurant is covered by menu labeling, it’s time to make a plan to comply.  Determine how to get accurate nutrition information for your menu as soon as possible or how to verify the accuracy of the numbers your restaurant already has available.  Identify where and how to post the required information across your locations in accordance with the regulations.  Create internal processes and train staff to ensure your posted nutrition information remains accurate over the months and years to come.  These 6 Steps to Menu Labeling Compliance can help guide you. 

The steps outlined in the “6 Steps” document often take more time than restaurants expect.  Starting as soon as possible can help you meet printing deadlines ahead of the final menu labeling compliance deadline of May 5, 2017.  Working with a menu labeling expert can make the process less overwhelming and help alleviate concerns over compliance.

Q: When must I comply?
If you are one of the estimated 200,000 restaurants in the United States affected by the menu labelling regulations, mark your calendar for May 5, 2017, the compliance date, and start moving forward ASAP.  While there had been some stalling by the FDA in previous years, there is no indication that there will be a delay for this final deadline. 

Between now and the deadline, restaurants will have much to accomplish including:

  • Verifying the accuracy of nutrition information: Many restaurants already offer nutrition information for menu choices.  This information will be under much closer scrutiny in coming months and years.  Working with a nutrition expert to verify the accuracy of these numbers and identify any red flags is a smart first step for your business.
  • Completing a full menu nutrition analysis: This can be a complex and lengthy process and is best completed by an experienced professional.  This step is essential in order to provide accurate calories and the additional nutrition information required by menu labeling regulations.
  • Posting of all required nutrient information and statements: Compliance is more than just posting calories on your menu and menu boards.  It will also require a long list of nutrients available onsite for each menu item plus standard statements printed on menus and menu boards. Determining how to do this most efficiently for your restaurant locations may take time and research.
  • Training of front- and back-of-house staff: Maintaining the accuracy of your available nutrition information will require staff training on menu labeling requirements and new in-house procedures.
Where are you in the process of menu labeling compliance?

Have more questions about menu labeling?  Let’s talk!