A shout out to thank Tim Oaks at Soup’n Such Café

Savvy Diner thanks Tim Oaks at Soup’n Such Café http://www.soupnsuch.net/ for mentioning the Savvy Diner Pilot project on the CBC Ontario Today (91.5) http://www.cbc.ca/ontariotoday/ during the discussion on menu labelling (Feb 27th, 2014)!

Tim is in favour of provincial menu labelling legislation for large chains and thinks the cost argument against it is ridiculous, especially if a small business like his can do it!  He added, that although they specialize in fast food, he looks forward to placing calorie and sodium values on his menu because they offer healthy fast food options.


We commend all the restaurants participating (Soup’n Such Café, C’est What, Scallywag’s, Govardhan Thal, Taste of Beirut, Bi Bim Bap, Hearty Catering, Beach Hill Restaurant, and Flip, Toss & Thai Kitchen) in the Savvy Diner Pilot project for their leadership and innovation for taking a proactive approach to providing customers with the information they need to eat healthier while dining out!

Best Way to Inform Diners is with Nutrition Information Directly on the Menu

Savvy Diners celebrated with us on October 9th when Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Deb Matthews, announced the province was moving ahead with legislation requiring large chain restaurants to post calorie and other nutritional information on restaurant menus. More recently, media coverage about Informed Dining, a voluntary restaurant program, has left some people scratching their heads about what diners can expect in Ontario.

Since Informed Dining  is voluntary, it is limited only to restaurants that choose to participate. The program’s aim is to provide consumers with nutritional information on the menu, a website or in a brochure.  The requirement is for restaurants to provide nutrition information on all thirteen nutrients found on a Nutrition Facts Table, plus calories. So far, the Informed Dining participants seem to be using the latter two methods vs posting right on the menu. Who has time to sort through brochures when ordering at a restaurant? This is a YouTube clip that we have shown before http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD4m6WN3Tlg .  It clearly shows the challenges with not having the information directly on the menu!

We applaud the Ontario government for recognizing that a voluntary, “available upon request” approach to providing nutrition information simply doesn’t cut it. The evidence shows that posting nutrient info on menus and menu boards — rather than providing it online or in brochures — is more likely to influence diners to make healthier food choices.  The province’s decision to proceed with legislation to require menu labelling for large chain restaurants is a good plan for Savvy Diners across Ontario. We hope that the province will seize this opportunity to provide leadership based on the best available evidence and that we will see a commitment to add sodium information to menus, in addition to calories.  Toronto Savvy Diners anxiously await the province’s next steps.

Why the Province Should Mandate Sodium Values on Menus   Why the Province Should Mandate Sodium Values on Menus Page 2



We See the Glass as Half Full, not Half Empty

glass half full or half empty


Do you see the glass as half full or half empty? We prefer to see it as half full. This is why we find it frustrating to see headlines such as this in the news: “Restaurant Calorie Labels Meaningless For Two-Thirds Of Consumers: Why Posted Warnings Don’t Work” (see the article).

ScreenCaptureRestaurantCalorie LabelsMeaningless


Let’s start by stating the obvious: If two-thirds of restaurant customers don’t use calorie information to make informed decisions and healthier choices, that means that one-third of them do.

These results are actually impressive, considering that the study was done in 2009 in the United States, when there was no federal menu labelling law. The proposed law has still not come into effect in 2013.

If you take a closer look at the study, you’ll see that it was a cross-sectional survey, meaning that not everyone is being exposed to the same conditions. Participants were asked ‘Do you typically read calorie information for foods and drinks when it is available at fast-food and chain restaurants?’ The fact that 36% of people said yes shows that a significant number of people may be going out of their way to seek out nutrition information in chain restaurants, even when it is not right on the menu. These are very motivated people, so it’s not surprising that 95% of them reported using the calorie information to help them decide what to order.

The bottom line is that this study is a good news story for Savvy Diners. It is consistent with our claims that up to 30% of restaurant goers will use menu labelling information to make healthier choices. And we have no doubt that by having to disclose this information in a very public way, restaurants will have an incentive to make their products healthier. This will benefit everyone who eats in restaurants, not just those who use the information to make a better choice.

It’s too bad that we keep having to point out that, when it comes to menu labelling, the glass is half full and not half empty.


Mixed results from Philadelphia’s Menu Labelling Research Studies

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of the only cities we know of that requires some restaurant chains to list sodium content on their menus. So it goes without saying that we were eagerly awaiting the results of their menu labelling research.

This week, the results were published in two different journals, and the results are mixed. In a nutshell, the law seems to be making more of an impact on customers in full service restaurants where printed menus include the amounts of calories, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and carbohydrates for each menu item. In fast food restaurants, where only calories are posted on the menu board, customers were less likely to see and use the information to make a healthier choice.

sit down restaurant menu

Here are a few interesting highlights of the research studies:

In full service restaurants,

– 76% of customers saw the nutrition information on the menu and 34% of them reported that the nutrition info influenced their ordering decisions.

– Those who used the nutrition information chose meals with 400 fewer calories and 370 mg less sodium.

– 26% of all customers reported using the nutrition information when deciding what to order.

– Overall, customers at labeled restaurants purchased 151 fewer calories and 224 mg less sodium compared to customers at non-labeled restaurants.

– Calorie and sodium levels in full service restaurant meals remain excessively high. Amongst those who used the nutrition information in deciding what to order, the average amount of calories purchased was still over 1200 with nearly 2800 mg of sodium. (Those who did not use the nutrition information purchased meals with over 1700 calories and over 3300 mg of sodium!)

In fast food restaurants,

– 38% of customers saw the calorie information on the menu.

– 10% of customers reported buying fewer calories as a result of seeing the calorie information.

– 3% of customers reported buying more calories as a result of seeing calorie information.

– the average number of calories purchased did not significantly change from the time before menu labelling went into effect (959 calories vs. 904 calories – similar to the calorie levels purchased in the comparison city of Baltimore where there is no menu labelling law).

The research studies also confirmed that females, those with more education and those with higher incomes were most likely to use menu labelling information. These are some of the factors that may be responsible for the mixed results.

People line up to buy food at a fast food restaurant in Harlem in New York

The fact that only 38% of the fast food customers noticed the calorie labelling information is both surprising and disappointing, but it tells us two things: Firstly, it is important to increase public awareness of menu labelling. The author notes that in Philadelphia, the menu labelling law did not get much media or public attention. (Here’s where programs like Savvy Diner can play a big role!)

Secondly, the menu labelling information needs to be prominently displayed so that it is apparent to people from the ordering line. The design of the menu board is hugely important. Indeed, there was a 15% difference between customers who noticed the calorie information at the two chains participating in the fast food restaurant study. While 49% of the Burger King customers noticed the calorie postings, only 34% of the McDonald’s customers noticed it.

The factors that get customers to see and use menu labelling in different types of restaurants is sure to be an area of further study.




Craving a Hot Lunch on a Chilly Autumn Day?

When the weather turns colder, many of us crave hot meals to warm our bodies and lift our spirits. Just the thought of a steaming plate of pasta, a saucy rice bowl or a spicy curry brings feelings of warmth and comfort during these chilly autumn days.

But we need to be aware that these mouthwatering comfort meals are often laden with calories and sodium, partly owing to their typically large portion sizes and the generous amount of sauce.

Looking at the nutritional information for one popular sit down restaurant chain, the average menu item in the “Pastas and Bowls” section contains around 1170 calories and 2325 mg of sodium. That’s more than half the calories many adults need in a whole day, and more sodium than anyone should eat in an entire day. And those numbers don’t include any appetizer, bread, beverage or dessert.

At this particular chain, the worst offender in this category is a chicken rigatoni dish which has almost 1400 calories and over 3200 mg of sodium.


The lowest calorie option is a Thai red curry dish that has just over 900 calories, but it still has nearly a day’s worth of sodium (almost 1400 mg).


By the way, these numbers are fairly typical. We’ve reported previously that this is what a Nutrition Facts table would look like for the average sit down restaurant meal in Canada, which includes an appetizer and a main:


So what’s a chilly Torontonian turned Savvy Diner to do? First of all, ask to see the nutritional information so that you can make an informed decision. Then, decide how much you want to eat, taking into consideration the rest of the meals and snacks you’ll have for the day and the amount of physical activity you’ve got planned.

If we had this information upfront, we’d try our hardest to eat only half and take half to go, for tomorrow’s lunch.

Stay Warm,

The Savvy Diner Team