Restaurant Menu Calorie Counts: An Overview

Tim Ridgely 26 April, 2017

As of May 5th, 2017, the US FDA will require certain restaurants and food service establishments to provide calorie counts on menus, and in-depth nutritional information upon request. We've noticed some confusion and misconceptions around the new requirements. Here we'll provide clarification around key concepts and requirements for restaurant owners/managers and walk through some of the questions we're most frequently hearing.  

For more information, we recommend heading over to the FDA Industry Guidance.

Please note: This is not a complete breakdown. We do not provide legal advice. Please consult with your advisors or legal counsel for guidance on your specific situation.

Am I required to show calorie counts?

In general, if you operate 20 or more locations under similar branding, yes.

Can I make the calorie counts really small?

No. The font size must be at least as large as the name or price of the item, whichever is smaller.

Can I hide the calorie counts off to the side, or put them on a separate web page?

No. The calories must be next to the item name or price.

Does my online ordering menu have to show calorie counts?

Yes. The Open Dining system has features to accommodate these requirements.

We've put together some tutorials to show you how to add calorie counts and nutritional information to your Open Dining online menu.

What other formatting requirements are there?

  • The term "Calories" or "Cal" must be used to indicate calories
  • Calories may be shown as a column in a table, or you can place the number of calories next to the name or price of the item
  • If you use a column with all the calorie values, the column must have a "Calories" or "Cal" heading
  • If you put calories next to item names or prices, "Calories" or "Cal" must appear next to each calorie value, in the same type face and size

Does marketing collateral have to show calorie counts?

Generally, yes, for items listed on the marketing. If the marketing material (fliers, etc.) provides a phone number or web site and one or more menu items, it's considered a menu board, and must show calorie counts.

This is because a customer could conceivably call and order the item by looking at only this flier/marketing material.

If this is a coupon or other material already attached to a menu with calorie information (such as on a takeout menu), it does not need to show the calorie information separately.

How do I round calories?

You must round the number of calories, according to the following guidelines:

  • Less than 5 calories: Round to 0 or 5 calories
  • 5-50 calories: Round to the nearest 5 calories
  • More than 50 calories: Round to the nearest 10 calories

Can I show per-serving counts for multi-serving items?

Yes. If an item typically has multiple servings, you can show the per-serving count, but you must also show the number of servings. (This can be helpful to avoid calorie "sticker shock" for high-calorie, multi-serving items.) For example:

  • Buffalo Chicken Pizza 300 cal/slice, 10 slices OR
  • Buffalo Chicken Pizza 3000 cal

If an item comes in several sizes, can I show a range for the sizes?

No. If the item only varies in size, you must show the number of calories for each size separately.

If an item comes in several varieties with different calories, can I show a range?

Yes. If an item has several varieties (not sizes), you can show a simple range. If there are only two varieties, the calories should be separated with a slash, like 150/300. If there are more than two varieties, a range should be shown, like 150-450.

How should pizzas be presented?

The calories present in the pizza "base item" should be shown along with the sizes. Then, the toppings should be shown, along with the calories added by the toppings.

Toppings calories can be presented as a range.

For example:

Supreme Pizza: Small 700 cal, Medium 900 cal, Large 1,600 cal

Bacon: Adds 200-400 cal

Extra Cheese: Adds 150-350 cal

Can I use a plus symbol instead of "adds" for modifiers?

No, symbols cannot be used.

Is the "2,000 calorie" statement required?

Yes. The FDA calls this their "succinct statement," and it must be present on the bottom of all menus/menu boards. It must say:

"2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary."

If you have a children's menu, the following statements can be used in addition to, or instead of, the above:

"1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4-8 years, but calorie needs vary"

"1,200 to 1,400 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice for children ages 4-8 years and 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day for children ages 9-13 years, but calorie needs vary."

Do I have to provide calorie counts for all items, even specials?

Not all items. Some items, such as daily specials, temporary items (offered for less than 60 days per year), general-use condiments, and market test items can be excluded.

Custom orders are also excluded. If the customer requests something different than your standard prep, you are not required to offer calorie information on this preparation.

Further reading

This list is far from comprehensive. The FDA's web site provides good resources for learning more.

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