(The collective name given to various laws and regulations that have been implemented to ensure accuracy in the wording on menus.)
As a hospitality manager, you have a right to advertise your food and beverage
products in a way that casts them in their best light. If your hamburgers contain
eight ounces of ground beef, you are free to promote that attribute in your advertising,
your menu, and as part of your server ’ s verbal descriptions. You are not free,
however, to misrepresent your products. To do so is a violation of what has come
to be commonly known as Truth in Menu laws. These laws, which could perhaps
better be described as “ accuracy in menus, ” are designed to protect consumers from
fraudulent food and beverage claims. Many foodservice operators believe that Truth
in Menu laws are recent legislation. They are not. In fact, the federal government,
as well as many local communities, have a long history of regulating food advertisement
and sales, as can be seen in Figure 12.3 .
The various Truth in Menu laws currently in effect run to thousands of pages,
and are overseen by dozens of agencies and administrative entities, thereby taking the
labeling of food to much greater degrees of accuracy. Though these laws are constantly
being revised, it is possible for a foodservice operator to stay up to date and in compliance
with them. The method is relatively straightforward, and the key is honesty in
menu claims, in regard to both the price that is charged and the food that is served.
Certainly, menus should accurately reflect the price to be charged to the customer.
If one dozen oysters are to be sold for a given price, one dozen oysters should
be delivered on the plate, and the price charged on the bill should match that on
the menu. Likewise, if the menu price is to include a mandatory service charge or
cover charge, these must be brought to the attention of the guest. If a restaurant
advertises a prix fixe dinner with four courses and a choice of entrees, the guest
should be told the price of the dinner, which courses are included, and the types of
entrees he or she may choose from.
“ Accuracy in menu ” involves a great deal more than honestly and precisely
stating a price. It also entails being careful when describing many food attributes,
including the preparation style, ingredients, origin, portion sizes, and health benefits.
Because this area is so complex, and because consumers increasingly demand
more accurate information from restaurants, the National Restaurant Association
(NRA) and many state associations have produced educational material designed to
assist foodservice operators as they write and prepare menus. Called A Practical Guide
to the Nutrition Labeling Laws , this publication is written specifically for the restaurant
industry; it outlines everything you need to know about nutrition claims you can
make for your menu items. You can secure a copy for a modest charge from the
NRA. Food allergies are another area of concern for hospitality operators. In addition,
the federal government issues food description standards that can be of great
assistance. You should pay particular attention to the following areas when you
begin writing the menu for your own foodservice establishment.
ANALYZE THE SITUATION
JEFFERY AND LATISHA WILLIAMS ARRANGED a 50th anniversary party for Latisha’s
parents. They reserved a private room at the Tannery, an upscale steak and
seafood house located two miles from their suburban home. The Williams
hosted a total of 10 people. Unfortunately, the service they received from
the restaurant staff was not very good. When the check arrived, Mr. Williams
noticed that a 15 percent charge had been added to the total price of the bill.
When he inquired about the charge, his server informed him that it was the
restaurant’s policy to assess a 15 percent “tip” to the bill of all parties larger
than eight persons. The policy, explained the server, was not printed on the
menu, but was to be verbally relayed anytime a guest made a reservation for
more than eight people. Mr. Williams replied that the reservation was made
by his secretary, and she mentioned no such policy when she in formed
Mr. Williams of the restaurant’s availability.
Mr. Williams refused to pay the extra charge claiming that it should be
he, not the restaurant, who determined the amount of the gratuity, if any.
When the restaurant manager arrived on the scene, he informed Mr. Williams
that the server had misspoken and that the extra charge was in fact a “service
charge,” and not a tip. Mr. Williams still refused to pay the added charge.
1. Does Mr. Williams owe the extra 15 percent to the restaurant?
2. Does it matter whether the surcharge is called a gratuity or a service
charge? How would that be determined?
3. What should the restaurant do to avoid similar problems in the future?
Under federal law, certain food items and preparation techniques must be carried out
in a very precise way, if that item or technique is to be included on a menu. In many
cases, the federal government, through either the Food and Drug Administration or
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has produced guidelines for accurately describing
menu items. Consider the following common items and the specificity with
which their preparation style is determined by federal guidelines:
Grilled : Items must be grilled, not just mechanically produced with “ grill marks, ” then steamed before service.
Homemade : The product must be prepared on premises, not commercially baked.
Fresh : The product cannot be frozen, canned, dried, or processed.
Breaded Shrimp : This includes only the commercial species, Pineaus. The tail portion of the shrimp of the commercial species must comprise 50 percent
of the total weight of a finished product labeled “ breaded shrimp. ” To be
labeled “ lightly breaded shrimp, ” the shrimp content must be 65 percent by
weight of the finished product.
Kosher - Style : A product flavored or seasoned in a particular manner; this description has no religious significance.
Kosher : Products that have been prepared or processed to meet the requirements
of the orthodox Jewish religion.
Baked Ham : A ham that has been heated in an oven for a specified period of
time. Many brands of smoked ham are not oven - baked.
It is important that your menu accurately reflect the preparation techniques
used in your kitchen, not only because the law requires you to, but also to help
ensure your operation ’ s credibility with the public.
Perhaps no area of menu accuracy is more important than the listing of ingredients
that actually go into making up a food item. While restaurants are not currently
required to divulge their ingredient lists (recipes) to their guests, there are specific
situations when the ingredients listed on a menu must precisely match those used
to make the item. If, for example, an operator offers Kahlua and cream as a drink
on a bar menu, the drink must be made with both the liqueur and the dairy product
stated. Kahlua is a specific brand of Mexican coffee liqueur, and cream is defined by
the federal government as a product made from milk with a minimum fat content
of 18 percent. Of course, a bar manager is free to offer a different, less expensive
coffee liqueur to guests, and use half - and - half (which contains 12 percent milkfat)
instead of cream, but the drink could not be called a Kahlua and cream. To do so is
unethical at best and illegal in most areas.
Whenever a specific ingredient is listed on a menu, that item, and that item
alone, should be served. For example, if the menu says maple syrup, then colored
table syrup or maple - flavored syrup should not be served. This is especially important
when listing brand - name products on a menu. (Recall the discussion of trademarks
and brand - name items from previous thread , “ Legally Managing Property. ” )
If substitutions of the menu items must be made, the guest should be informed
of those substitutions before ordering. As consumers ’ interest in their own health
continues to rise, foodservice operators can expect more involvement and consumer
activism in the area of accurate ingredient listings.
For many menu items, the origin of the product or its ingredients is very important.
Many consumers prefer Colorado trout to generic trout, Washington apples to those
from other states, and Bluepoint (Long Island) oysters to those from other areas. It
can be tempting to use these terms to describe similar menu items from other places,
which may cost less to purchase. But to do so is fraudulent. Moreover, it sends the
wrong message to employees who know of the substitutions, as well the guests who
ultimately are deprived of the items they thought they purchased. It is also illegal.
Product size is, in many cases, the most important factor in determining how much
a guest is willing to pay for a menu item. For example, a steakhouse could offer different
cuts of beef and price them appropriately according to size. An 8 - ounce steak
might sell for $ 17.95, while the 12 - ounce might sell for $ 23.95 and the 16 - ounce
for $ 25.95.
Other types of food products may be harder to associate with precise quantities.
For example, “ large ” East Coast oysters must, by law, contain no more than 160 to
210 oysters per gallon, while “ large ” Pacific Coast oysters, by law, may contain not
more than 64 oysters per gallon. Nevertheless, whether it is the size of eggs sold in
a breakfast special or the use of the term “ jumbo ” used to refer to shrimp, specifying
size on a menu is an area that must be approached with the understanding that
the law will expect you to deliver what you promise. A simple rule of thumb for
avoiding difficulties in this area is: If you say it, serve it.
For many years, the only menu item most restaurants offered as a healthy one was
the “ diet ” plate, generally consisting of cottage cheese, fruit, perhaps some grilled
poultry, and a lettuce leaf. It is no surprise that today ’ s health - conscious consumer
demands more. In response, restaurants generally have begun to provide greater
detail about the nutritional value of their menu items. The federal government,
however, issues very strict guidelines on what you can and cannot say about your
menu offerings. Thus, Truth in Menu laws relate not just to what is charged and
what is served but also to the nutritional claims made by foodservice operators.
According to FDA estimates, well over half of all printed menus in the United
States contain some type of nutritional or health benefit claim. There are two types
of claims generally found on menus: Nutrient claims contain specific information
about a menu item ’ s nutrient content. When a dish is described on a menu as being
“ low - fat ” or “ high - fiber, ” the restaurateur is making a nutrient claim. Health benefit
claims can also appear on menus. These claims do not describe the content of specific
menu items, but instead show a relationship between a type of food or menu
item and a particular health condition. For example, some restaurants include a
note on their menu stating that eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol can
reduce the risk of heart disease. Other restaurants identify nutritionally modified
dishes on their menu using terms such as “ heart - healthy ” or “ light, ” or use symbols
such as a red heart to signify that a dish meets general dietary recommendations.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued regulations to ensure that
foodservice operators who make health benefit claims on their menus can indeed
back them up. These regulations, published in the August 2, 1996, Federal Register,
apply the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990 to restaurant items
that carry a claim about a food ’ s nutritional content or health benefits. All eating
establishments must comply with these regulations.
Following are two examples of FDA regulations surrounding the use of common
A low - sodium, low - fat, low - cholesterol item must not contain amounts greater
than FDA guidelines for the term “ low. ” Light, or “ lite ” items must have fewer
calories and less fat than the food to which it is being compared (e.g., “ light Italian ”
dressing). Some restaurants have used the term “ lighter fare ” to identify dishes
containing smaller portions. However, that use of the term must be specified on
Health Benefit Claim
To be considered “ heart - healthy, ” for example, a menu item must meet one of the
following two conditions:
The item is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and fat, and provides without
fortification significant amounts of one or more of six key nutrients. This
claim will indicate that a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may
reduce the risk of heart disease.
The item is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and fat; provides without
fortification significant amounts of one or more of six key nutrients; and is
a significant source of soluble fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, and grain
products). This claim will indicate that a diet low in saturated fat and
cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain
some types of fiber (particularly soluble fiber) may reduce the risk of heart
When printing health benefit claims on a menu, further information about
the claim should be available somewhere on the menu or be available on request.
Restaurants do not have to provide nutrition information about dishes on the menu
that have no nutrient content or health claim attached to them. The FDA permits
restaurants to back up their menu claims with a “ reasonable ” base, such as
cookbooks, databases, or other secondhand sources that provide nutrition information.
(By contrast, the FDA requires food manufacturers to adhere to a much more
stringent set of standards. Many food manufacturers perform chemical analyses to
determine the nutritional value of their products and to ensure that the information
about their product printed on the food label is true.)
The enforcement of Truth in Menu regulations is undertaken by state and local
public health departments, which have direct jurisdiction over restaurants by monitoring
their food safety and sanitation practices. The general public can also act as
a regulator in this area. In today ’ s litigious society, a restaurant manager should
have any menu containing nutritional or health claims reviewed by both an attorney
and a dietician.
In addition to carefully developing menus, Truth in Menu laws require that
restaurants truthfully and accurately specify what their servers say about menu
items, as well as how their food products are promoted or shown in advertisements,
photographs, and promotions.