A few years ago a local news station released an exposé on a few major chain restaurants revealing that the nutrition facts that they had been disclosing to the public about some of their healthier meal offerings were actually quite false. Recently, a Fox news station in Alabama conducted a similar experiment by ordering meals from three different restaurant chains and having them tested at a food science laboratory to determine the meals’ exact nutritional content to then compare the values on the actual restaurant menus and websites. The findings this year were much more comforting; I think that the last study scared them straight.
The thing that diners need to keep in mind is that when you are getting food in a restaurant it is being prepared by human hands, not stamped out by a machine. It is perfectly reasonable to expect some variation in the nutrition contents of a menu item from dish to dish. At FoodCALC we always recommend that our clients use disclaimers very similar to the statement that Applebee’s gave Fox news for this very reason.
So how much variance should one expect from the posted nutrition information in a restaurant? According to the most recent proposed regulations from the FAD, 20% is considered reasonable variance.
It definitely helps to have and to follow standardized recipes, and to use consistent scoop sizes, and to follow proper production from procedures, but cooks and chefs are not well oiled machines; they are people. Not every chicken breast in a case will be cut exactly the same, and, not every #8 scoop will be exactly 4 fl oz.
All things considered, I still think that nutrition facts in restaurants provide good ordering guidelines for health conscious diners. What do you think?