Insight into the Tricky Business of Restaurant Menu Labeling

September 3, 2012 — Chain restaurants will soon have to reveal calorie information on menus, but results are mixed in research on the influence of calorie labels on food choices. An August study in the journal Appetite studied several menu label arrangements for their effect on consumer’s choice of lower calorie menu items. The study found that listing only calories of the menu items resulted in no significant difference in calories ordered between the Calories study group and the Control group who had no calorie estimates next to their menu items.

The August 20, 2012 study by Peggy J. Liu and three other researchers used an online survey to test four menu label presentations: no calorie labels provided for the control; calorie labels for menu items; calorie labels arranged from low to high calories; or calorie labels ordered from low to high calories with red/green circles indicating higher and lower calorie menu items. Subjects in the online survey, after reviewing the menu in one of the 4 presentation styles, then chose menu items, estimated calories in the items chosen, and rated the restaurant’s perceived healthfulness. The results of the study found that presenting calorie information in either of the last two embellished formats decreased the calories ordered. Additionally, providing calorie information with red or green circles next to menu item’s calories increased perceived healthfulness of the restaurant.

Click here to read the study abstract, and here to read a related article on menu labeling.

Menu, photograph © Stuck in Customs / flickr

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