As a member of The Catering Institute faculty I was recently given the opportunity to participate on a webinar about catering menus and menu labeling. It was so much fun to participate and I was thrilled to see so many foodservice operators join on the call.
When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed their menu labeling regulations, foodservice operators were scrambling (and many still are) to understand the regulations and how they apply to in-store menus. Actually, menu labeling goes beyond in-store menu boards and includes catering programs as well as banquet dishes.
If you are a restaurant or similar foodservice establishment; if your catering menu is from an established part of a any type of chain with 20 or more locations;or if your catering business is operating under the same chain that has 20 or more units and if you are selling "substantially the same" menu items, then you are required to post nutritional calculations on your catering menus.
Keep in mind that every nutritional item needs to include calories for each standard menu item next to its name or price. The font size must be no smaller than the price, must be the same color and contrasting background, and easy to read.
Calories also must be rounded to meet rules:
Now that we have covered the types of restaurant catering menus that need nutritional disclosures, here is a quick view of what must be labeled:
1. Food sold for immediate consumption at a sit-down restaurant, which includes banquet and catering dishes. For restaurant operators, this includes food that is usually eaten on the premises, while walking away, or soon after arriving at another location.
2. Food purchased at a drive-through or take-out establishment, including party platters hot buffet food, salad bars and soup bars. For restaurant operators, when the food is ordered in relation to when it is picked up, and how many people will share the food, have no bearing on the applicability of the rule.
3. Food ordered for immediate consumption at a grocery store or convenience store; and
4. Self-service foods at a deli or coffee shop.
While the regulations seem to cover almost every type of menu item offered, there are some exemptions that I have listed below:
To ensure your staff knows and understands menu labeling, post a simple and easy-to-read explanation of the regulations in the back of house highlighting what is included and what is not. This is so employees have the right information to answer any customer questions. Your employees also should be able to answer how nutritional calculations are determined. As discussed in my last post, there are a variety of methods that are approved by the FDA. However, you must be able to prove how the process is accurate if numbers are ever questioned. Have your nutritional information certified by a third party so you can prove the accuracy of your information should you ever be questioned. You must have your nutritionals certified on two levels to be compliant and even your catering operation is on the hook for the same certifications.