Menu labeling provides transparency for our guests
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For many of us who work in the food service industry, May 7, 2018 is more than a decade in the making. Starting today, federal law requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calories on their menus. In a country where the average consumer eats and drinks one-third of their calories away from home, this is a huge win for all of us. This rule not only helps Americans make more informed choices while dining out, it represents a powerful example of government and industry working together for the benefit of everyone we serve.

Nutrition information will now be available in more than 200,000 restaurant locations nationwide. With uniform national menu labeling guidance in place, anyone eating out will have clear, easy-to-understand information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter the city or state.

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The National Restaurant Association and our members believe in the importance of providing transparency to empower consumers to make the best choices for their dietary needs. However, a patchwork of confusing and often conflicting rules in more than 20 local and county laws was wreaking havoc on the industry and leaving our customers confused. Some restaurants with more than one location faced two or more rules for their menus – sometimes within the same state.

Recognizing that federal guidance was long overdue, the industry came together to work with lawmakers and more than 70 public health and business groups to advance national menu labeling guidelines to preempt the burdensome regulatory jumble and give consumers clarity. After more than two years of work, menu labeling guidelines were passed in 2010. Our work did not end there.

We knew we needed to keep working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as they wrote the final rules to improve them and protect them against attempts to weaken them. By working with the impacted industry, the government has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing restaurants with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit our customers & their dining experience. This will also help avoid costly litigation and unnecessary delays.

A lot of time, effort, and money have been invested by restaurant owners and operators to implement this law. Those who meet this threshold will need to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and drive-thru displays and provide other nutritional information to customers.  In fact, many of our members have already taken the steps to be in full compliance, ahead of today’s deadline.

In addition, it is important that we not return to the piecemeal approach from years past. Previously, menu labeling laws were passed on a state-by-state or city-by-city basis and in some cases, counties were competing with cities to pass their own version of laws. For small and medium-sized business owners, this meant designing different menus for different parts of a state where they operate. Now, because of federal law, that is no longer the case.

The goal is every restaurant is to provide the best service to our customers. Thanks to hard work over more than a decade, diners in restaurants from Portland, Ore. to Portland, Maine, will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them. And as any chef will tell you, a good meal is worth the wait.  

Cicely Simpson is the Executive Vice President at the National Restaurant Association, and played a key role in negotiating the menu labeling rule.