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Will calorie counts on menus put you off your restaurant dinner?

The Restaurants Association of Ireland argues that it will cost businesses €5,000 each.

YOU WON’T FIND a deep-fat fryer, frying pan, or microwave in Voila Café on Dublin’s Lower Baggot Street.

You also won’t find full-fat milk – just semi-skimmed or skimmed.

Located in an area where there are a number of busy gyms, the business has responded to the needs of its health-conscious customers in a very forthright way.

That’s why it also introduced calorie counts on its menus almost five years ago, ahead of the curve.

13741292134_176c7013aa_z The then-Health Minister James Reilly in 2014. Source: Department of Health via Flickr

Count those chips

Yesterday, it was announced that calorie counts will be printed on menus across Ireland. The legislation necessary for the move will be ready for enactment in 2016.

The news is part of the fight against obesity in Ireland, and will see restaurants, take-aways and all food service outlets having to display the calories and price of each item.

At Voila Café, they worked on the calorie counts from scratch, said Mark Somers, who also runs Café Boulevard.

He said that they worked with the head chef on the project, and they learned they had to be “very, very careful with what kind of food and what you are adding to the food”.

But do calorie counts turn patrons off their pastries?

emma stone eating Source: YouTube

Somers says no. They’ve never encountered a situation “where a person says ‘no I can’t have that’”.

He says that “it all depends on what kind of establishment you’re running” when it comes to the food that places offer. At Café Boulevard, they embrace their deep-fat fryer and the resulting calorific goods.

That’s because their clientele aren’t Baggot Street gym bunnies.

“Calorie counting, it’s essential. I really think it’s essential,” enthuses Somers.

It makes [customers] want to come back into the restaurant. They know in their head exactly what they are going to have it. They are going to have a lunch that’s 340 calories and feel good about themselves, or they are going to have a 340 calorie cappuccino. It’s all about choice. We don’t push it to the customers.

7983161461_790009406a_z Source: MCDonaldsCorp via Flickr

Domini Kemp, of healthy café Alchemy in BT2, and the Itsa Bagel chain, pointed out that calories aren’t always an indication of the  value of the food. She said she appreciates the need for guidelines for fast food chains:

But calories are a blunt tool: the Department of Health should be focusing on  nutrition and educating young people, not counting calories. A diet soda may have no calories, so on the basis of calorie deficiency should it be promoted as a healthy drink? It would do more good to focus on the drinks industry in terms of calories and sugar content.

She says that “realistically, stand-alone restaurants cannot possibly put calories on menus. It’s absurd”, adding that dishes can vary due to “fresh food, daily specials and chefs’ skills”.

It’s a blunt tool for a much bigger problem and they are simply kicking the can down the road.

SF salad 1 An Alchemy superfood salad Source: Alchemy

But will it help obesity?

Restaurant owner Paul Treyvaud says his issue isn’t with the implementation of calorie counts – though he adds “I come up with specials every second day… it’s unfeasible” – but with the intent of the legislation.

“It doesn’t matter if people say ‘I want to see calories on a menu’ – that’s fine. But the crux is that the government say they want to do it to combat obesity, but it will do nothing to combat obesity,” he argues, saying that the government is “putting the onus on other people”.

He would prefer if government focused on ingredients on processed foods which may be contributing to obesity and bad health.

“Who’s going to police it, who’s going to enforce it?” he asks, adding that he feels the move will be detrimental to the restaurant industry.

Thoughts from the takeaway 

5222286742_6716447c15_z Source: LWYang via Flickr

Brian Lennox of Jackie Lennox’s chipper in Cork city welcomes the fact the calorie counts are being brought in to fight obesity – but like Treyvaud, is of the opinion that the blame for obesity doesn’t lie with outlets like his.

“I don’t think obesity starts in a chip shop or takeaway,” he states. “I think it starts at home. It’s getting parents not to overdo the meal sizes for children.”

He says that it could be awkward tallying a correct calorie count for the items at his chipper, given that the fish would naturally vary in size, and chip portions can vary slightly.

“It’s going to be tough, but I suppose we just have to do it,” he says.

Devastating for restaurants?

But the Restaurants Association of Ireland is not so pro-calorie counts.

It opposes the move, claiming that each restaurant will have to shell out a cool €5000 to implement the change.

6798638255_6f42d953d8_z US menu with calorie counts Source: Flickr

It is “extremely concerned” at the proposal. The RAI’s chief executive Adrian Cummins warned yesterday that the introduction of calorie information on menus “will have devastating effects on the restaurant industry”.

He urged the government to reconsider this bill in the interest of the restaurant industry and tourism. He also suggested that the measures “would be virtually impossible to monitor”.

Any chef will tell you that menus in restaurants vary from day-to-day and therefore calorie counting would be highly inaccurate anyway.

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The Irish Hotels Federation, meanwhile, also warned against the introduction of labelling. In a statement yesterday, its president Stephen McNally said that the scheme must remain voluntary for hotels and guesthouses.

Our members are very concerned that the proposed calorie labelling scheme does not take account of the challenges faced by hotels and guesthouses whose menus constantly change. While such a scheme would be would be appropriate for certain food service establishments, it would be unworkable for many of our members.

A 2013 New York University study showed that including the calorie count at major fast-food chains “does not change purchasing habits or decrease the number of calories consumed”.

In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has drafted its own rules for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, requiring them to begin posting calorie information on their menus.

Last year, the FSAI developed a free online tool called MenuCal to help restaurants and cafés calculate calories for their menus.

Would calorie counts make you think twice about what you order?


Poll Results:

Yes (4880)
No (3410)
I don't know (378)



Read: It’s official: calories are going to be printed on menus>

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