Consumers Eat Up New Menu Requirements

CHICAGO -- Menus around the U.S. are in the process of getting a makeover, and consumers are happy about it, according to new research from Mintel.

The new health care bill will require all restaurants, with 20 or more locations, to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and drive-thrus.

According to Mintel's latest research, more than 60 percent of restaurant-goers think restaurants should post nutritional information on menus, and two in five (44 percent) think federal or local governments should facilitate such actions.

"Menu transparency will allow consumers to have control over their food decisions with a complete understanding of what they're eating," noted Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel. "However, getting people to eat healthier requires more than just posting calories or adding healthy options to the menu ... the food also has to taste good."

When going out for dinner, nearly 60 percent of survey respondents say they want something that tastes great, and 23 percent claim to want to eat a healthy meal. Only 14 percent of diners say they are never interested in ordering a healthy restaurant meal. This insight shows that restaurant patrons are attracted to healthful meals, as long as they're full of flavor.

Nearly half of survey respondents report eating healthier in restaurants in the past year and people have different methods for doing so. Reducing fat (67 percent) leads the way in strategies for adopting healthier eating habits at restaurants, followed by eating more fruits and vegetables (52 percent). Meanwhile, 49 percent of patrons are cutting calories by simply ordering less food.

"From a restaurant's perspective, there is a concern that healthy menu items may not sell, but there is also a danger to having a calorie-laden menu when the calorie count law starts taking effect," said Eric Giandelone.

"There may be some initial consumer shock at the calorie counts and chains may have to start listing lower-calorie options or smaller portion sizes to help diffuse this unpleasant surprise."

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