Will the Affordable Care Act Affect Your Budget and Your Customers’ Waistlines?

CC Image Courtesy of SimonDoggett (Flickr)
CC image courtesy of SimonDoggett (Flickr)

In last week’s edition, you saw locally sourced and healthier entrees slated as the two biggest, upcoming trends in the restaurant industry in 2014. This week, we’ll take a look at the challenges these menu changes pose to larger restaurant chains in the coming months, as well as the decisions that will soon face consumers at both the table and the drive-thru as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, nutrition labeling at chain restaurants will become standard practice. Restaurants with 20 or more locations will be required to disclose certain nutrition facts to their customers. Not only must these nutritional facts be available to customers, they must be clearly posted in easily visible locations such as menu boards or salad bars signage, clearly labeling each menu offering with its estimated calorie count.

Consumers want to eat healthier, but will they make the conscious choice to do so when confronted with the specific caloric and fat content of their lunch? Studies say, “No.” In fact, in one study, conducted by Carnegie Mellon University (published in the American Journal of Public Health), researchers found that,

The results showed no interaction between the use of calorie recommendations and the pre-existing menu labels, suggesting that incorporating calorie recommendations did not help customers make better use of the information provided on calorie-labeled menus. Further, providing calorie recommendations, whether calories per-day or per-meal, did not show a reduction in the number of calories purchased.

The bad news for restaurant operators is the increased cost to implement a system which displays nutritional information for consumers and meets federal guidelines. The good news, the calorie counts don’t seem to effect consumers’ decision to purchase that 1,500 calorie super burger. So restaurant operators, take heart, no matter what you put on your signage, customers will still eat that coveted super burger if it’s what they came for.


For more information on the Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items at Chain Restaurants, see Section 4205 of the Affordable Care Act.

“Recommended Calorie Information on Menus Does Not Improve Consumer Choices, Carnegie Mellon Study Shows” by Shilo Rea

Written by Teresa Glasgow, Technical Writing Specialist, Future POS, Inc.