It’s been almost a year since we discovered one of the surprises in ObamaCare that Nancy Pelosi promised we’d find once we passed the bill — a new federal law requiring all restaurant chains of 20 or more locations to put calorie counts on its menus. The mandate will creates a huge cost burden for restaurants not just in testing and printing costs for initial compliance, but every time the restaurant wants to add a new item to its repertoire. The extra cost will be worth it, say many, because it will change American eating habits once the benighted consumers realize the high amount of calories they consume when eating outside the home.
But does it change eating habits, and did consumers labor under the impression that a double-cheese pizza was somehow health food? CNN reports on a new study that says the menu mandate won’t change anything:
“If people are going to Taco Time, they’re going to eat tacos!” Precisely. Taco Time provides a wide variety of menu choices, some with relatively low calorie counts, so it’s not as if consumers don’t have a choice. When they choose their food, though, the calorie counts don’t really enter into their decision — or, more accurately, consumers already understand what those choices mean and make them anyway.
CNN does a terrible job in presenting this, because rather than just speculate that the 960-calorie choice is “all there is,” they could have just checked Taco Time’s website and looked at the nutritional information. In fact, Taco Time offers a wide variety of choices to its customers, and even in burritos the calorie choices range from a Crispy Pinto Bean (360 calories) to the Big Juan with Pork (650 calories). Customers can also buy a Crisp Ground Beef Taco (260 calories) instead of a Super Soft Ground Beef Taco (590 calories). Instead of choosing the large cheddar fries (700 calories), they can order the Mexi-Rice (80 calories). The fact that ordering behavior doesn’t change between the two doesn’t relate to a lack of choice, but to the fact that customers go to Taco Time for a specific experience and know exactly the nature of the food they eat.
Similarly, people in Minnesota have a wide range of choices when they go to Davanni’s, a local chain of 21 restaurants that now has to deal with a menu mandate that doesn’t change behavior at all. Davanni’s not only didn’t hide their calorie counts, they built an on-line interactive website to help its customers determine how their ordering choices would impact their caloric intake. Instead of spending $200,000 on business expansion, they have to spend it on reprinting all of its menus and menu boards when they could have just put a computer terminal on their counters for about $600 a store. In April 2010, I interviewed Davanni’s VP Ken Schelper to discuss the impact of the federal menu mandate, and especially how it puts smaller operators at Davanni’s at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace: