Beginning next month, New York City restaurants that sell standardized dishes and provide nutritional information to the public will be required (PDF) to post calorie counts on their menu boards. (According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the regulation covers about 10 percent of the city's restaurants.) Concerned that listing the calories for every variation they offer will be impractical, several restaurant chains have stopped providing nutritional information, hoping to escape the new requirement (the sort of unintended consequence I predicted last year). Wendy's explains:
We regret that Wendy's cannot provide product calorie information to residents or customers in New York City. The New York City Department of Health passed a regulation requiring restaurants that already provide calorie information to post product calories on their menu boards -- using the same type size as the product listing.
We fully support the intent of this regulation; however, since most of our food is made-to-order, there isn't enough room on our existing menu boards to comply with the regulation. We have for years provided complete nutritional information on posters inside the restaurant and on our website. To continue to provide caloric information to residents and customers of our New York City restaurants on our website and on our nutritional posters would subject us to this regulation. As a result, we will no longer provide caloric information to residents and customers of our New York City restaurants.
I'm not sure how Wendy's plans to stop New Yorkers from seeing the nutritional information (PDF) on its website. (Possibly this announcement is a ploy aimed at encouraging the New York City Council to modify the health department's regulation.) In March the Associated Press reported that Quiznos and White Castle also had withdrawn nutritional information in anticipation of the new menu rule, which applies to restaurants that make such information available "on or after March 1, 2007."
Starbucks, by contrast, is taking on the menu board challenge, The New York York Times reports:
Executives at the Starbucks corporate headquarters in Seattle said they will comply with the new law at their 326 stores in New York, but they have no idea how. The company offers 87,000 drink combinations, depending on the kind of milk, amount of syrup and whether the drink has whipped cream, said Valerie O'Neil, a Starbucks spokeswoman.
Companies that offer several variations on one item can list a calorie range, and that might help. Or the company might ask for permission from the health department to put the information near the cash register instead of on the menu board.
[Thanks to Stevo Darkly, Urkobold, and Kwix for the tip.]