Secrets of Restaurant Nutrition
What you need to know about nutrition and food safety in your favorite restaurants.
Restaurant secrets often start with nutrition. And until now, those
restaurant nutrition facts have been available on a hit-or-miss basis.
That's starting to change, as Congress considers two bills that would
require chain restaurants to provide information similar to that on a nutrition
facts label on packaged foods in supermarkets.
Beyond restaurant nutrition, there are other tips and tricks of the trade
that many diners don't know. Want to find out more restaurant secrets about
food safety, portion sizes, and which foods offer the most nutrition -- and
value -- for the buck? Keep reading.
One of the biggest restaurant secrets is nutritional information. Think
about it: How many diners would chow down on one of Outback Steakhouse's
Bloomin' Onions if they knew it contained an estimated 2,130 calories?
But that may be changing. Of the two bills going through Congress, one would
require restaurants with 20 or more outlets to provide nutrition information
however they choose, such as on brochures or web sites; another would require
restaurant nutrition information on menus or menu boards.
"If it isn't on the menu then it isn't worth doing, because nobody sees
it," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the consumer
advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
In New York City, where restaurants with at least 15 outlets were recently
required to begin displaying calories on menus or menu boards, diners have
taken notice. Some 90% of restaurant patrons said calorie counts were higher
than expected, according to a survey by Technomic, a Chicago-based market
That information is changing what 82% of diners order, according to the
Technomic study. Sixty percent of those surveyed said it also affects what
restaurants they visit.
Want more restaurant nutrition information now on what you're eating? Check
web sites. Most fast-food chains already provide this information online, as do
a handful of dinner-house chains. Yum Brands, which owns Kentucky Fried
Chicken, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and other brands, is starting to place calorie
counts on menu boards at all company-owned restaurants nationwide and will
finish the work by 2011.
Off-Site Food Preparation
To cut down on labor costs, speed up service, and reduce the risk of
food-borne illness, many chain restaurants and some independent restaurants
serve food that is partially or fully cooked elsewhere, often in a central
kitchen or food-processing facility. The practice helps restaurants solve
training issues caused by the industry's high employee turnover rate.
"There are big labor savings," says Barbara Fields Brown, director
of operations for Global Concessions, which owns 12 restaurants at Atlanta's
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. "And we do not have to be worried
about a lot of cross-contamination, because the food has already been
For diners, the benefits are less clear. They'll find consistently prepared
food at chain outlets across the country. But if they'd like their steak
prepared without seasoning or less salt in the chicken fajitas, they're out of