Small businesses weigh in on menu calorie labels - DatelineCarolina

JOUR532 Public Affairs Reporting

While diners count calories, restaurants start tallying the costs

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John "Pop" Sankey, owner of Pop's N.Y. Pizza in Five Points, says his customers don't come to him watching calories, but for a good slice of pizza. John "Pop" Sankey, owner of Pop's N.Y. Pizza in Five Points, says his customers don't come to him watching calories, but for a good slice of pizza.
Groucho's manager Robert Locke, right, says he expects menu labeling to show calorie counts would cost his West Columbia restaurant $400. Groucho's manager Robert Locke, right, says he expects menu labeling to show calorie counts would cost his West Columbia restaurant $400.

While diners count calories, restaurants start tallying  costs


By Tiffany Melanis
Edited By Chris Cox
Posted April 23, 2010


Counting the calories in that sandwich or entree would be easier under a bill in the South Carolina Legislature, but restaurant managers like Robert Locke say all they expect to count are the extra costs of lost business and new menus.

The bill sponsored by Reps. Ted Vick, James E. Smith and 10 other House members would require restaurants to include the calories next to each item on their menus and menu boards.

"I can see this getting to be pretty pricey," Locke, manager and cook at the West Columbia Groucho's Deli, said as he made one of its signature STP sandwiches. "This is a small business; whether it's a franchise or not, we don't have the money to spend on something like that. I can see it hitting $400 easily and maybe even more."

Locke has worked at the Columbia-based chain for the past five years. He says he's seen many changes in the business but that this one is unnecessary.

"For the first few weeks it'll probably have an affect on customers, but then it's just going to go away," Locke said. "Ultimately, people are going to eat what they want to eat."

Calorie counts already will be springing up on many restaurants' menus under the new federal health care law. It requires restaurants with 20 or more locations nationwide to post the information. Vick's bill would lower that in South Carolina to restaurants with 10 or more locations.

Groucho's has 17 South Carolina locations, mostly around Columbia.

Advocates of printing the information hope it gets people to change their eating habits.

But Cody Miller, who says he eats an average of 10 fast-food meals a week and considers himself healthy, doesn't' agree.

"I don't think people want to know exactly what they are getting when eating at a fast-food restaurant," said Miller, a freshman at the University of South Carolina. "People already know that they aren't eating right when they choose a fast food place."

Though Miller doesn't expect to change his eating habits, he sees some people thinking twice.

"I think it will especially really hurt places that are considered competing restaurants," Miller said. "It could be a deciding factor in situations like that."

Some states have already made the change to calorie counting menus. New York was the first, in 2008. A 2009 study by Yale University researchers showed that providing menu labels did affect how restaurant customers ordered. People shown the information ordered items with fewer calories than those not shown the details, according to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Some chains in South Carolina already provide the information. Subway restaurants, for instance, provides calorie counts on some items because it helps bolster the chain's healthy image, spokesman Rob Wilson said.

It gives people options, Wilson said, but "not everybody is concerned about obesity. There are those who will look at the menu and not worry about calories."

John "Pop" Sankey, owner of Pop's N.Y. Pizza in Five Points, says customers don't look to him for a calorie count but for a meal they'll enjoy.

"For some people, the slice of pizza pie that we sell them is their dinner," Sankey said. "Whether it's because they don't have enough money, it's a reasonable means of getting through the day, a pleasurable way. That's why we're in business. "

Wendy's spokeswoman Kitty Munger says it's not a case of just slapping some calorie numbers on menus.

"The challenge is that there is a cost involved in getting nutrition information gathered, and it's a scientific process, and it can be very extended," Munger said. "For mom-and-pop restaurants, it can be very difficult to get that."

Though Munger says she doesn't know how much it will cost Wendy's, she says the charge for calorie testing is by menu item.

Locke says Groucho's is fortunate because "we already weigh all our meat so we won't have to spend money there, but many other restaurants aren't as lucky."

"I can see why lawmakers think consumers should see a calorie content of what they are eating, but I don't think it should be something this extreme or something mandated by government," he said.

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