Monday, January 26, 2009

Next to the plate: Twin Cities

Another proposed menu labeling law has made its way into the legislature. Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota are now considering an ordinance that would require restaurants with 15 units or more to post nutrition information on menus and menu boards. The proposed ordinance would also ban Trans Fats from restaurants.

Obviously, the Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota restaurants are not thrilled about this recent jungle drum; while the public advocacy groups are elated. But now 10+ similar laws have been passed (or pending), and I think we’re all getting into the swing of menu labeling routines.

With New York City and King County Washington already in effect, and California and Multnomah County Oregon due this year, one almost expects to pick up the paper and read another proposed menu labeling bill.

As restaurants continue to combat their un-labeled freedom, consumers and health advocates continue to demand knowledge, paving the way for these pocket laws in major cities across the country. Although opposed to the theory of menu labeling, it seems that some restaurants identify with the concept of a national labeling standard as opposed to un-standard way forward.

I wonder: are we heading to a national menu labeling bill similar to the NLEA?

Check back soon,

Alyson Z. Mar, RD

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Server Who?

Being in the tech world for as long as I have been I’m constantly excited when I read about how so many restaurant operators are beginning to use technology in their establishments to:

A) Save money and reduce costs
B) Interact win their patrons
C) Gather important customer profiles
and more...

Just the other day I was online ordering from Extreme Pizza and thought to myself, "the convenience of choosing my toppings and being able to specify certain requirements (hold the onions) is so convenient and easy, do we even need the order taker (at $x/hr) at the end of the phone anymore?" "How personal can automation be?" For some operators they think very....

About a week after my online ordering experience I received a coupon for $3 off my next order. Sounds fair I thought, but what really caught my attention was the follow through - I ordered online, why should I get a discount, I wasn't nice to the server or gave a particularly big tip? I got a discount because Extreme Pizza was able to connect with me, through technology in hopes I would be a returning customer. If I had called in would I still get a promo? I didn't speak to a single soul yet they won my business by staying connected to me.

Another great technology advancement I have come to appreciate is the table booking applications such as Open Table. Since I spend 80% of my waking life online, I love that OT will tell me what reservations are available and then recommend others if my preferred is booked. All without having to call and speak with someone (at $x/hr).

However the new innovation for me personally is the touch screen kiosks or terminals that restaurants are offering. It's like airport self check in meets ATMs: fast, convenient and loaded full of vital information and it's all available for me. At my own personal table!

Products I like:
TableTop media; compact yet full of surprises:
Uwink; you can even order a cab from the terminal:
And IDS Menus – who offer digital menus that can be changed when you change your menu:

In a world where we can buy groceries with our cell phones, and our cars can recommend restaurants I can't help but wonder, “are we heading towards a world where servers are the personality behind the plate, rather than the one who brings it?”

Looking forward to seeing what else the foodservice industry will take on next -


Monday, January 5, 2009

I Claim the Truth

We all want to slim down our waistlines these days, and for the most part people know that cutting back on fat and calories is the way to do it. Dieting shoppers and diners look to the food industry to provide great tasting food with “not so many” calories. Like any trend, the diet craze has paved the way for innovation in the industry. More than ever before we are looking at nutrition facts and asking for calorie counts, but some of us don’t even want to go that far. Claims like low fat, light, or healthy and their accompanying symbols make it easy for customers to make healthy choices without having to do the math themselves.

But what exactly do these claims mean? When you see low in fat, how low is it? The answer is complicated. It’s simple for packaged foods. The FDA has set criteria for making what they call “content claims” on food products sold in retail. These criteria indicate levels that a food’s nutrient profile must be under/over per portion size.

But what about restaurants and food services? The FDA has set similar criteria for what they call entrees and main dishes. However, this criteria is set per 100g, which I tend to think is a little misleading seeing as though there is no pre determined weight for a serving.

Other criteria have been developed specifically for healthy eating programs for restaurants. Most of these are very similar, and are based off of the USDA’s guidelines for a healthy adult diet. Marketing programs like Healthy Dining Finder help restaurants promote their healthier menu items. The Arizona State Health Department has also started a similar program to promote menu items that qualify by their very similar criteria.

Other companies make up their own claims and criteria. From what I have seen, claims are not regulated as much in foodservice as they are in retail. The FDA sets strict guidelines for making claims which are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission for retail items. Restaurants, on the other hand are held to the honor system.

Don’t disregard any claims that you see in the grocery store or in eateries; they are still a great way to help guide your healthy eating choices. Just stick to your instincts, if it sounds too good to be true….take a closer look.

Happy 2009,

Alyson Z. Mar, RD