Blackboard in Restaurant Open Kitchen

Calorie Info on Menus Makes a Difference

Key Takeaways

  • Displaying calories on eating out menus influences consumers to make lower calorie choices
  • Showing calories on menus has also encouraged retailers to provide lower calorie options

Hands up who enjoys eating out at a nice restaurant now and then? And do you favour a grab-and-go lunch instead of a packed lunch at work?

Then read on . . .

Comprehensive new research has proven that, when the calories for our meals are displayed on the menu, it makes a difference to the choices we make.

Introducing Calories to Menus


It was around 2009 when the Food Standards Agency first prompted many well known food chains in the UK to start displaying the calorie content of all food.

Health campaigners backed the idea, saying it was a crucial step in helping combat the UK obesity crisis. But people in the hospitality industry were more than a little sceptical.

The chief of the British Hospitality Industry, Bob Cotton said:

“We have serious concerns about this latest initiative. There is no evidence, either in this country or New York that demonstrates that the display of calories on menus will result in consumers changing their diet.”

Fast forward to 2018 and the UK government are split on the issue, and people connected to the food service industry still don't like the idea.

The main problems are seen as being for independent restaurants and gastropubs - where menus change often and there are no staff with the time to do calorie counts.

Possible Benefits to Consumers

A recent study provides evidence showing that calories on menus actually does result in consumers consuming fewer cals and making healthier choices.

The Study

A trio of researchers from large Australian universities collated 186 studies on the effect on consumers of displaying calories on menus, as well as 41 studies on the effect of retailers.

What Did They Find?

Researchers found that displaying calorie information encouraged a reduction in calories per meal for consumers. They also found a small reduction in the number of calories in menu items, initiated by food retailers.

  • The biggest reduction in calories per meal was noted amongst overweight people at 83 calories per meal
  • The reduction amongst women generally was 60 calories per meal
  • Over all consumers the average reduction was 27 calories

So for those who are overweight the difference soon mounts up:

1x a week In a Year: 4316 cals 1.2lbs
2x a week In a Year: 8362 cals 2.4lbs
3x a week In a Year: 12,948 cals 3.7lbs
5x a week In a Year: 21,580 cals 6.2lbs

That's getting towards half a stone reduction in a year for those who eat out regularly - simply from putting calorie counts on menus!

As well as helping consumers make healthier choices, researchers discovered that displaying calories on menus can also affect what retailers offer their customers.

Those retailers that had calorie information available for customers, also had healthier options available than the retailers that didn’t supply the information.

Good menus gone bad

As you might guess, we're all for increased knowledge and awareness of calories at wlr. So it's disappointing that some restaurants who were including calorie counts on menus have elected to take them off:

  • Prezzo
  • Strada
  • Zizzi
  • Pizza Express
  • Frankie & Benny’s
  • Cafe Rouge
  • Wetherspoons

Although a couple still show a ‘less than 600 calories’ option within their menu – Zizzi, Pizza Express – it is disheartening to see outlets making information harder to find for customers. We'll try to keep up with any flip-flopping!

What You Can Do

Even when you are watching your weight and calorie counting, you can still enjoy eating out without blowing your diet.

  • If you buy lunch from food outlets most days, try making homemade lunches. They’re easy to make, cheaper and you can calculate calories
  • If you’re going out to eat, choose somewhere that you know displays calories on their menus
  • If you’re eating out and the menu doesn’t show calories, WLR can help. Our food database has an extensive eating out section so you can check your choices beforehand
  • If there are no calories and you’re worried, try to avoid deep fried dishes, pastry, rich sauces, cream or lots of cheese

You can try wlr free, we're all about long term success

You're in total control when you use wlr. How much you want to lose, how fast or slow you want to take it, what you want to eat, whether you include exercise. Give it a try - you may have more options for weight loss success than you realise. Try it free for 24 hours!

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Wallop, H. 2009. Restaurants to display calorie counts on menus to help obesity crisis. The Telegraph.

Zlatevska, et al. 2017. Mandatory calorie disclosure: A comprehensive analysis of its effect on consumers and retailers. Journal of Retailing

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