Navigating Menu Labeling Before May 2017 FDA Enforcement

Now that  FDA has issued its final guidance on new menu labeling requirements calling for enforcement in May 2017, it is important  to address the best way restaurant leadership should handle nutritional analysis. Restaurant operators — whether they have one location or more than 100 — have an opportunity to increase customer loyalty by following the menu labeling requirements.

And even though the requirements may seem burdensome to some, to others these requirements present the ability to communicate menu transparency. Consumers are now looking for opportunities to compare nutritional labels from a variety of foodservice operators all in an effort to make better food buying decisions, if they so choose. The growing trend of restaurants eliminating artificial ingredients from their menus, or highlighting ones that contain allergens or gluten, has been a positive step toward advocating for consumer health.

Additionally, foodservice establishments that cater to diners with special dietary needs will come out on top because they have taken the extra step to ensure the health and safety of their diners.

I have worked with some of my clients for several years on their nutritional calculations and launched our guide, 7 Steps to Menu Labeling, to help flip the fear restaurant operators have toward menu labeling. The guide outlines menu labeling best practices and reveals a few steps that all restaurant operators should take when it comes to getting started. For best results, restaurant leaders should make sure their executive teams know the correct steps to take to ensure compliance with the new menu labeling regulations.  

They also should be able to work with their foodservice vendors to gather accurate ingredient lists.

1. Get your nutritional information together: If your nutritional information is more than two years old – or if you’ve changed suppliers and/or ingredients – have someone double check the nutritional information of your menu items and verify it for accuracy.

2. Verify your information: Additionally, if your nutritional information is more than one year old – or if you’ve changed suppliers and/or ingredients, reanalyze your nutritional information and verify it for accuracy.

3. Identify allergen and gluten-free menu items: This will help your team respond to allergen requests and will teach staff how to effectively communicate a guest’s special dietary need to the kitchen.

These are important steps to take, both for your employees and your customers. Step one will require a strong leadership approach in order to gather all of your information. Meanwhile, step two requires third-party validation of your nutritional information. This is because that is the best way to determine the accuracy of your information. This also will increase your guest’s confidence in the information you are providing. Once you have completed the first two steps, you further protect the lives and health of your customers by identifying which menu items are allergen and gluten free.

By offering clean ingredients and a transparent menu, restaurant operators can have a positive impact on the food ecosystem and clear marketing messages. Becoming an advocate for your patron’s needs offers a great competitive advantage. It is an often challenging feat, but one that comes with many rewards.