You may remember I just traveled to NY for business. It’s been nearly four years since I lived there. I miss some of that energy but mostly I miss the food (and my sister). Not food in general, we have plenty of amazing restaurants in Boston… but local spots I used to frequent and the plethora of salad bars and delis on every corner.
The other thing I love about those NY delis and restaurants are the nutritional summaries for every item in plain sight (they didn’t have that when I lived there but I’m really impressed every time I visit now). I think it goes without saying that someone that’s health conscious and is in active weight-loss mode is excited about this NY law (I really really really can’t wait for Boston restaurants to follow suit… I even wrote about standing up for public nutritional info back in 2009). What I always wondered about, though, is how much an average consumer is really influenced by these figures that can’t be avoided (or can they?). Well, this past Tuesday I saw one example of it.
My co-workers and I were at the Penn station with 2 hours to spare before our train, so we decided to hit up TGI Fridays for a few drinks (it’s right in the train station). Eventually people started getting hungry and my boss asked for the menu to get an appetizer to snack on and maybe a real meal for the train (I already pre-purchased my salad at Pret). He was faced with a menu that had calorie counts right then and there!
My boss is not particularly health conscious (he’s definitely sporting a belly) and I’m going to go ahead and say that he’s not particularly knowledgeable about nutrition (just from random little comments I heard him say) but these numbers startled him! He knew that 1,800 calories for a salad was an overkill (“Isn’t that like a total day’s worth of calories?” he said. Yes it is!) and so despite being hungry he put the menu down and decided to get a salad elsewhere (I joked that he just went to a place that didn’t list nutritionals but still).
I honestly was surprised by this behavior. I think a lot of people have absolutely no concept of what calories are or how many one should eat so these numbers of course are just numbers… since there is no framework as to how it compares to your total daily recommended allowance. I also read somewhere that certain people (mostly guys and those struggling financially) may actually order things of higher caloric value because of perception that you get more for your dollar. Obviously, not exactly the point of this law but hey, at least it makes for a more educated decision, whatever way it goes.
I should note that the TGI Friday’s menu on their website does not clearly display caloric content (even though they clearly have it!) because the numbers remain shocking and for most of people that actually know what they mean, can be a deterrent… so they hide it (I don’t mean to pick on this chain in particular but it’s a fine example of “standard” chain restaurants). Ignorance is not always bliss. Do you think that restaurant nutritional info right on the menu would make a difference in what your order (or whether you order at all!)?