Implementation of Obamacare Regulations are the Latest Blow to the Restaurant Industry



Restaurants are bracing themselves for the implementation of the new calorie labeling rule that is anticipated to be released any day.

The original rule requiring restaurants to place labels containing caloric information alongside items on restaurant menus was contained in the president’s monumental ObamaCare legislation. The exact language of the rule had not been sorted out at the time, though. This past spring, the FDA proposed exact wording for the calorie labeling regulation, which prompted many responses and alterations from other parties. The FDA expected that the formal language would be decided on sometime this past summer, but delays compounded, and a decision is yet to be heard, though that will change quite soon.

As expected, the restaurant industry fought against such a regulation, arguing that it was not only impossible to calculate the caloric content of every single menu item combination, but also that the expense of doing so makes it unfeasible for smaller establishments to incur the cost of such an exercise.

While the rule is directed mainly at restaurants, its intentionally ambiguous language gives the FDA free reign over a great number of other establishments as well. Any store which dedicates at least half of its floor space to selling food will be subject to the terms of this new regulation. Convenience stores, bookstore cafes, and any other establishment that sells prepared food will also fall prey to the new FDA rule. Some lawmakers are trying to extend the breadth of the bill even farther by arguing that movie theaters and other such establishments should also be subject to this latest regulation.

While the law’s proponents argue that every American should know the caloric information of the food he or she is consuming, representatives of the restaurant and convenience store industries have pointed out that they are already required to place nutritional information on the vast majority of their products. On average, over 95% of the items sold in a grocery store already have nutritional information on them.

This latest regulation seeks to weed out that ~5% which is unlabeled. This small fraction of items without nutritional information consists of food prepared in-house by the establishment. For example, the regulation would require grocery stores to provide caloric information when they cut up fresh fruit and put it in a container to sell. Representatives of the industry point out that the impossibility in implementing of such a rule stems from the fact that the food industry is constantly in flux. Those containers of cut-up fruit never contain the same number of strawberries, apples, blueberries, etc. Because of this, the caloric information would vary from container to container. As a result, restaurants and grocery stores would be forced to make the exact same product in order to provide accurate caloric information.

Representatives of the restaurant industry are also quick to point out that minuscule things, such as the cut of a steak, would significantly alter caloric content. Again, restaurants would be forced to be painfully exacting with making out portion sizes and choosing the type of meat used. Pizza establishments provide a unique challenge. Domino’s says it offers 34 million different possible pizza/pizza topping combinations. Not only would calculating that many different scenarios be extremely expensive, but to display all of that information on a menu would be impossible.

Those who work in the affected food industries have reported that they are hoping for a lenient rule, one that provides an adequate margin of error when calculating caloric information, though most are pessimistic about that possibility being the outcome.