Exclusive: The new federal menu mandate meets the real world

posted at 10:12 am on April 1, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Yesterday, I spent a little time at a local pizzeria to find out more about the impact of the new federal menu mandate in the real world. Davanni’s has 21 locations throughout the Twin Cities, a smaller, local chain that suddenly must now comply with this federal requirement to publish the caloric content of each of its menu items on all of its printed presentations. However, these restaurants have a problem when they offer their customers a wide range and high number of options — as most pizzerias do. Ken Schelper, a Vice President of Davanni’s, sat down with me yesterday to explain just how costly this new mandate is, and how difficult compliance will be:

This is just a part of the long discussion I had with Ken about the problems faced in this law. We both speculated whether a calorie disclaimer amounted to advertising, and whether restaurants would have to put lawyers on retainers as consumers (and perhaps competitors) drag them into court to substantiate the claims. For that matter, how will restaurants calculate these calorie counts? Can they simply use the numbers from their suppliers to calculate the nutritional data for the end product, or will they have to get lab testing done? As the video notes, every time they have an ingredient change, or even just a supplier, they have to recalculate everything — and then reprint all of their menu boards and literature in every location.

The pressure of this law will eventually force restaurants like Davanni’s to reduce consumer choice as a way of managing the overwhelming burden of maintaining their disclosures. Smaller chains that succeed in satisfying their customers and managing their business used to be rewarded with growth, but this law will put an artificial cap on expansion at 19 locations. That means that fewer people will find jobs, and even in existing stores, money that may have funded more jobs will instead go to reprinting the same menu boards over and over again. And all of this comes because political elites think that people are too stupid to know that a pizza is fattening or how to access information that already exists in much more efficient formats than menu boards.

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Perhaps it is time for the restaurants around DC to stop delivering food to Capitol Hill…

And add a special ‘Congressional surcharge’ for those that can be identified walking in the door… the surcharge is for this thing known as ‘service’. They are free to order, but delivery to the table costs twice as much for ‘quality control’. This isn’t discrimination by race or class! Being a Congresscritter is a volunteer position, not one descended to you by heredity, although it seems that way at times. Nor is it by gender, ethnicity or religion. These are public servants. Time to remind them service costs extra when they neglect it themselves.

ajacksonian on April 1, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Estimate of how much paperwork the new Obamacare calorie publication mandate would require:

The following example is for build-your-own pizzas only. Please forgive any mistakes as my permutation & combination theory may be a little rusty.

Types of pizzas:
crust types: 2
sizes: 3
different topping items (from web site): 21 (20 toppings plus plain)

Total of all combinations of size, crust & toppings: 12,582,906

To publish the calorie count of each of the possible pizzas you could use telephone book style printing (similar size font, 1 pizza per line, two columns, double sided):
total pages required: 28,598
number of pages/inch typical phone book: 750
thickness of calorie count publication: 38 inches

So you would need to give out a 38” thick “phone book” with each menu. Note that this estimate is for publishing the calorie counts for build-your-own pizzas only & does not allow for double or triple pizza toppings or any of the other menu items. It also does not allow for other possible mandated listings such as salt, trans fat, cholesterol etc.

PointyHairedBoss on April 1, 2010 at 1:21 PM

MobileVideoEngineer on April 1, 2010 at 12:58 PM

Oh I remember doing the same thing when I lived in town.
And I was sure a fatty then. Not real bad, but I sure never felt as good as when I quit eating out.
And I don’t know if it’s age or what, but now when I eat out, I usually get a gut-ache & some in my family get diarrhea.
Strange stuff.

Badger40 on April 1, 2010 at 1:25 PM

…next, they will have scales at the door. Weigh in and pass the poundage test, or no-food-for-you!

LEBA on April 1, 2010 at 1:44 PM

Haven’t really checked the comments, but I imagine a quick fix for places like this is 2 “sell” 2 stores off to a spouse or kid, or even just do it on paper.

The more the feds impose silly, arbitrary, business crushing taxes and regulations, the more creative folks will have to be.

People will also feel more justified in stiffing Uncle Sam, and who can blame them?

reaganaut on April 1, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Ed, if you are going to start doing these kind of pieces, please rewatch this BBC video that HotAir previously linked to for the “how to.”

Second, since Davanni’s probably has over 100 employees, do they have to provide nursing rooms in each restaurant? This section of the law sure makes it sound like they have to:

SEC. 4207. REASONABLE BREAK TIME FOR NURSING MOTHERS.
Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 207) is amended by adding at the end the following:
(r)(1) An employer shall provide—
(A) a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and
(B) a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

WashJeff on April 1, 2010 at 10:25 AM

Fire women if they become pregnant.

Dasher on April 1, 2010 at 1:51 PM

2 “sell” 2

to sell, not sure what I did there…

Also, I think folks will just stop eatnig out, one of the many things I hate about Subway is weighing the meat, or using pre-measured amounts.

What do you do when someone orders a slight variation of what is one the menu? This is madness.

reaganaut on April 1, 2010 at 1:54 PM

Fire women if they become pregnant.

Dasher on April 1, 2010 at 1:51 PM

That’s always a gamble; there’s always the danger you could be facing holy hell from the martyr-mother crowd, perhaps even legal action. And isn’t firing an employee because of pregnancy illegal in the first place?

Dark-Star on April 1, 2010 at 2:01 PM

And isn’t firing an employee because of pregnancy illegal in the first place?

Dark-Star on April 1, 2010 at 2:01 PM

Yes.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t make her life a living hell at work so she ‘quits’.

Badger40 on April 1, 2010 at 2:20 PM

A simple solution that meets the needs of people with dietary concerns and owners of food establishments:

Put a sticker on the door that says:

Warning: Food served within this establishment may make you fat, squishy or otherwise visually unpleasant. Owner not responsible to make sure you eat well. That’s your mother’s job. And she probably doesn’t work here.

-Management

BobMbx on April 1, 2010 at 2:27 PM

But that doesn’t mean they can’t make her life a living hell at work so she ‘quits’.

Badger40 on April 1, 2010 at 2:20 PM

True. Don’t know how I forgot about that tactic…it’s very old and not limited to pregnant women.

Dark-Star on April 1, 2010 at 2:28 PM

And isn’t firing an employee because of pregnancy illegal in the first place?

Dark-Star on April 1, 2010 at 2:01 PM

What if she works at the Obama Memorial Abortion clinic? Wouldn’t that be bad for business?

BobMbx on April 1, 2010 at 2:29 PM

PHB @ 1:21…

Double your number, as Davanni’s offers a red or a white sauce option. Or over 12 million possible calorie counts on pizza alone.

MTinMN on April 1, 2010 at 3:52 PM

The purpose of all these rules is to give political hacks more ways to oppress those that don`t follow the political line.
You a Republican and not giving money to Obama or the Democrat mayor or city council member? Then the local political hack is going to call for a review of your menu calorie count. And while it is being recounted that Republican run business will be shut down…

albill on April 1, 2010 at 4:14 PM

I strongly suggest that an outfit like Whataburger in Texas, which claims that you can get your Whataburger in over 38,000 configurations, drop a copy of THAT 112 pound menu in Nancy’s lap from only a stepladder. Followed by all the restauranteurs that have combo food items. Maybe we’d get a re-set.

Unless of course we can get a November worth remembering.

Vote early, vote often.

Robert17 on April 1, 2010 at 4:35 PM

Someone show me in the Constitution where the Feds have the authority to mandate this.

BierManVA on April 1, 2010 at 4:35 PM

PointyHairedBoss on April 1, 2010 at 1:21 PM

You seem just a wee bit short on the possible combinations:

chemman on April 1, 2010 at 4:50 PM

Why sure, its the Menu Clause, Art I, sec 7.

james23 on April 1, 2010 at 4:52 PM

Someone show me in the Constitution where the Feds have the authority to mandate this.

BierManVA on April 1, 2010 at 4:35 PM

Liberals think “regulate” means to completely control every aspect of…

What it really means is to keep things uniform across the country.

uknowmorethanme on April 1, 2010 at 5:44 PM

Civil Disobedience. Don’t update your menus. Don’t pay the fine. When the goons arrive, make sure loyal customers know about it and show up to protest. Its time we stop accepting these ridiculous mandates on our businesses. Show some teeth to and stand up to this sickening crap.

AttilaTheHun on April 1, 2010 at 5:53 PM

And absolute waste of money. I am NOT going to shop for pizza based on calorie content. We don’t eat pizza very often in the first place (maybe a half a dozen times per year) and when we do, we shop for flavor, not calories.

I am not going to run between 15 pizza parlors to inspect their calorie count before I choose which one to buy. When we walk in, we have already decided to get pizza and we have already decided on the place.

Having this “information” is simply a waste of time and money for everyone involved but it probably provides a job for some Senator’s cousin’s friend going around checking pizza parlor menus.

What a crock!

crosspatch on April 1, 2010 at 6:05 PM

Actually, I think I know the reason for this. Once government controls health care, they are going to issue regulations on how many calories things can have. Having them documented is the first step toward regulating them. This isn’t about informing us, this is about laying the groundwork for more government regulations.

I am sick of this government.

crosspatch on April 1, 2010 at 6:06 PM

Warning: Food served within this establishment may make you fat, squishy or otherwise visually unpleasant. Owner not responsible to make sure you eat well. That’s your mother’s job. And she probably doesn’t work here.

It’s better to try and educate people to eat healthier food than ration health care because the country can’t afford to provide healthcare to all the obese members of society. Obesity is at epidemic proportions. Do you have any idea what the lifetime cost of each diabetes patient is to the system? It’s not cheap, and diabetes rates have doubled over the last 10 years.

My college roommate calculated all this crap every day for the dorm cafeteria. It wasn’t hard or time consuming to do back then using a spreadsheet, and there are numerous websites launching to help restaurants deal with this problem. Not a big deal.

bayam on April 1, 2010 at 6:19 PM

What a crock!

And you didn’t even notice the provision that every 100th pizza must be made in the likeness of Obama or Reid.

bayam on April 1, 2010 at 6:20 PM

True. Don’t know how I forgot about that tactic…it’s very old and not limited to pregnant women.

Dark-Star on April 1, 2010 at 2:28 PM

True. National Guard and Reserve Soldiers know this tactic of employers all too well.

thomashton on April 1, 2010 at 6:22 PM

So you would need to give out a 38” thick “phone book” with each menu. Note that this estimate is for publishing the calorie counts for build-your-own pizzas only & does not allow for double or triple pizza toppings or any of the other menu items. It also does not allow for other possible mandated listings such as salt, trans fat, cholesterol etc.

PointyHairedBoss on April 1, 2010 at 1:21 PM

Fortunately, private enterprise is always smarter than government.

PREDICTION: Coming soon:
“Grocery Stores” (which somewhat resemble ‘pizza joints’) with on-site custom baking services…all performed by on-site independent contractors.

…and other imaginative solutions which present an appropriate single-fingered salute to purveyors of government idiocy.

landlines on April 1, 2010 at 6:43 PM

What about buffets? How are they going to be able to comply? Besides seving suggestion info don’t work. It’s already on every food item in grocwry stores and how often do you read them?

RossMcG on April 1, 2010 at 6:45 PM

Besides serving suggestion info doesn’t work. It’s already on every food item in grocery stores and how often do you read them? RossMcG on April 1, 2010 at 6:45 PM

About as often as I want to know the answer. Otherwise, not so much…It is NOT about health, it is about CONTROL.

indypat on April 1, 2010 at 7:21 PM

Just list everything as 10,000 calories or less :)

rgranger on April 1, 2010 at 7:26 PM

Make it so that in order to go out to eat you must have at least a Bachelor degree, and to super-size you need a Master’s.

Option 2 is a very large, prominently displayed velvet painting of Michele Obama glaring at you in every restaurant.

deewhybee on April 1, 2010 at 8:07 PM

My college roommate calculated all this crap every day for the dorm cafeteria. It wasn’t hard or time consuming to do back then using a spreadsheet, and there are numerous websites launching to help restaurants deal with this problem. Not a big deal.

bayam on April 1, 2010 at 6:19 PM

Why is there no requirement for the consumer to read and aknowledge the required calorie information? If the government was serious about their stated intent, they should go the whole nine yards.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink; you can teach a liberal math and economics but they will just ignore it.

BobMbx on April 1, 2010 at 8:09 PM

GREAT interview Ed! I’m gonna cross post this if you don’t mind!

@ntif@n on April 1, 2010 at 8:12 PM

The liberals/progressives won’t be happy until all restaurants serve only tofu & soy milk.

TN Mom on April 1, 2010 at 9:13 PM

I see a huge number of chains suddenly selling off stores to get down to below 20. And who will they sell those stores to you ask…. Why another company that mysteriously has the same group of stock owners as the first company and who offers almost or exactly the same menu items as the original company. And so you will have to start remembering that if you want to go to Davanni’s in you area you might have to go to a place called Giovanni’s, which under the table you know is the same, but which is able to still offer the same service and food without the stupid cost of the idiotic Democrat crap from DC…..

woodythesingingcowboy on April 1, 2010 at 10:30 PM

DaVanni’s is a good local chain. Our girls love their pizza from time to time. Good piece Ed.

closetgop on April 1, 2010 at 10:36 PM

Not unless he knows exactly the calorie count of the waffle, the butter, and the syrup.

mjk on April 1, 2010 at 10:48 AM

Not to mention the exact iron content of the fork.

jimmy2shoes on April 2, 2010 at 9:10 AM

bayam: My college roommate calculated all this crap every day for the dorm cafeteria. It wasn’t hard or time consuming to do back then using a spreadsheet, and there are numerous websites launching to help restaurants deal with this problem. Not a big deal.

Obviously you have never worked in business and lack in reading comprehension. The issue is not obtaining the nutritional information, it’s the expense of providing it in written form on the menus and menu boards in a format that the public can read and quickly assimilate. Didn’t you even watch the video? Revise the catering menu…..$30,000. And that is probably a low ball estimate. I work in a business where packaging revisions are a big deal. Did you even take a look at the menu board? Now imagine it with calorie information cluttering it up. Now imagine customers completely ignoring it. So much for the new mandates. Better yet, imagine the menu board with less choices as that is the only way this place would be able to add the required information and still fit everything on the board.

JohnnyL on April 2, 2010 at 9:24 AM

It’s better to try and educate people to eat healthier food than ration health care because the country can’t afford to provide healthcare to all the obese members of society. Obesity is at epidemic proportions. Do you have any idea what the lifetime cost of each diabetes patient is to the system? It’s not cheap, and diabetes rates have doubled over the last 10 years.

bayam on April 1, 2010 at 6:19 PM

I’m not diabetic. I pay for my own insurance. If I end up having diabetes, I will pay to take care of myself. It’s none of your business how fat or diabetic I am.

I’ve been saying this for many years now, but people like you are pushing me to enforce it. Stop helping me. I don’t want your help. You have no right to force your help on me. I never asked for it, demanded it, or campaigned for it. If you don’t stop trying to shove your help down my throat, I will be FORCED to MAKE you stop.

Am I making my self clear?

runawayyyy on April 2, 2010 at 10:13 AM

Perhaps the next step is a calorie ration card, where the restaurant punches your card for the calories you order/eat. When your ‘ration’ of calories is up you can not eat any more! This will save food (to support the starving children in Africa and China), reduce health costs (as people lose weight), and further diminish the restaurant/fast food businesses (when people eat out less). No doubt we will be healthier and happy people, thanking Obama and the democrats for showing us the way to true happiness. The final step is essentially a ‘gulag’ without fences where everything we eat and do is regulated by the government to minimize ‘social’ costs and if you disagree or complain we reduce your calorie rations or put you in prison.

jerseyman on April 2, 2010 at 10:41 AM

explain just how costly this new mandate is, and how difficult compliance will be

Uh huh. The conservative lap dog rule followers will soon be like, “Hey, buddy…it’s the LAW! You gotta do it-oh, and quit whining slacker.”

That’s why we never get anything accomplished.

Put a “U.S” or a government seal on it and their blind love of law and order makes them cave in.

Dr. ZhivBlago on April 2, 2010 at 11:02 AM

What’s also troubling about this is that the National Restaurant Assoc. actually lobbied for this.

(It was the “kill me last” argument…they thought even stricter standards were possible state by state so their large clients lobbied for a uniform federal standard).

aquaviva on April 2, 2010 at 6:32 PM

So I was in Virginia a year or two ago, and ate at two different pizza places. Different names, different owners. The menus (other than the pizzeria names) and the decor (again, other than the names) were identical.

Two businesses. Exactly the same model, right down to the spice holders. (looked a bit like the tops of greek columns coming out of the tables to me…)

Tell me this wouldn’t work around it….

Mew

acat on April 2, 2010 at 11:00 PM

Why don’t you right-wing racists give Obama credit for stimulating the menu printing industry? Just think how much work they will be getting every time a place like Davanni’s decides to change their mayonnaise! I say Obama is saving or creating dozens…umm, hundreds – no, wait…millions of jobs with this.

DarkKnight3565 on April 3, 2010 at 9:19 PM

They damn well knew what was in that damn bill–the important points at least. The didn`t read it stuff was a strategy. Yes, it is apparent that it was actually preferable to pretend not to know the main points of the bill for the sake of palatability. Oh, yes, they knew what was in this bill. It was just better to look like an idiot(many were not pretending to be sure) than tell the truth to get this thang passed.

But does the bill affect our tilted to left bureaucracy that much? The folks of congress (including the repubs) may be getting some sweet deals.

Human nature normally dictates you will do what is good for you. In this case, them.

What we got here is a politburo in the making.

I kid you not. What else do you call a small card-carrying privileged class lording it over the masses?

And boyo how global warming fits the burgeoning control bill ever so nicely.

Sherman1864 on April 5, 2010 at 12:10 AM

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