One of the requirements of the recently enacted healthcare law is that restaurants must post calories on the menu, so that customers have a clear understanding of the number of calories they’re consuming.
It’s a move that makes lawmakers feel good about what they’re doing. They can show they’ve made information more readily available to consumers, and that should help with the overall obesity problem in the U.S. It shows action.
But will it affect change? What about portion size control instead? Which would be more effective?
Portion Size Control – A Study In Human Behavior
Behavioral psychologists enlisted the help of a few restaurants to study the impact of posting calories on the menu. Researchers examined the ordering habits of patrons, then started posting the calories on the menus. What they found was virtually no change in ordering habits.
The vast majority of consumers have already decided what they’re going to order before they ever walk through the doors of a restaurant.
I’ll give you an example. — This Sunday, we spent the afternoon working around the house. By the end of the day, we were famished and came to the conclusion that we had a collective craving for cheeseburgers. Nothing else would do. So, we piled into the car and went out for cheeseburgers. We made the decision about what we were going to eat before we ever set foot in the car.
Based on my own experiences with weight loss, and in talking to friends, I’ve got to believe that’s how most people make their eating decisions. The decision about what to order is usually made before they walked through door.
There is an alternative to putting calories on the menu that will change our behavior. — Reducing portion sizes.
Most people know that restaurants have “fillers” they give out in increasing portion sizes to justify raising prices. Foods like white rice, potatoes, and fries are cheap and calorie dense, and so they’re used to pad profits. Researchers from the same team found when restaurants offered a discount for smaller portion sizes of these filler foods, a large percentage of customers took the discount.
Money talks, right?
Truth be told, most of us don’t want 3 or 4 cups of rice with their meal, but if we have to pay for it, we’re darn well going to eat it, right?
I’ve noticed some of the large chain restaurants taking note of this in their offerings. Recently, some local McDonald’s restaurants have started offering a “snack size” McFlurry. Sure, the cost per ounce is higher than the standard size, but if I want a small taste of ice cream, why buy more just to throw it out?
Portion size control.
Traveling on business, I’ve noticed other restaurants starting to roll out menu items using the same concept.
My opinion — it works. And the research backs it up.
But to be effective, restaurants have to have the smaller sizes on the menu. Dieting is hard enough, and studies show that customers won’t ask for it.
So if government wants to bring restaurants into the fight against obesity, rather than taking shots at the big chain restaurants, they should encourage them to make smaller portion sizes standard menu offerings.
It’s not sexy, and it’s not flashy. In fact, smaller portions generally means fewer sales dollars, which flies in the face of increased corporate profits.
But it will work.