Calorie counts on restaurant menus aren't all they they're cracked up to be, according to an investigation by Scripps Television. Over a period of several months, the station tested "healthy" options at chain restaurants like Chili's and Taco Bell in several cities. The results were, well, disheartening:
The Macaroni Grill sample showed the widest variance from the menu's claims. Its "Pollo Margo[sic] Skinny Chicken," which was supposed to have 500 calories, actually had 1,022, according to the testing. The chicken dinner was supposed to have 6 grams of fat. It had 49….
Taco Bell's products also contained more calories than the company claimed. Its "Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco" had four times as much fat and almost twice as many calories as advertised. The steak taco is supposed to have 4.5 grams of fat and 160 calories; testing showed it to actually have 20 grams of fat and 297 calories.
This is a classic case where fraud should be punished–lying to your customers about nutrition info is already a legal no-no–but mandating widespread calorie reporting probably won't make counters more honest, it will just make this kind of dishonesty more widespread.
But there may not have been malice here. Most likely, somewhere in a lab at Macaroni HQ, there is a perfect, Platonic, and rather smallish preparation of Pollo Magro's Skinny Chicken that fits the specs described on the menu. (Actually, this menu[PDF] from Macaroni's corporate parent website claims a mere 330 calories for the dish.)
But short of going for some pretty unappealing options, like sending everything pre-packaged to every location (which would undermine various claims to freshness, homemadeness, etc.) the food will always be pushed and padded, shrunken or swollen, depending on customer taste, local custom, and whether or not the line cook's girlfriend broke up with him last night.
Getting a few more calories than you intended is a risk you take by eating out, and one that every adult understands. Again, lying to customers on purpose is unacceptable, but bound to happen in the world of individually-prepared restaurant dishes. And as Jacob Grier, from whom this link originated, points out, a little common sense is called for as well: the "skinny" meal involves a big hunk of chicken and a decent amount of feta cheese.
More on menu labeling here.