The Knowing/Doing Disconnect

A study of the effects of posting calorie information in New York City restaurants has found that it has been a big fat failure so far. Even the few patrons who say the information influenced their decisions still bought food containing more calories than average.

What's up with that?

The theory of menu labeling says that once consumers get a peek at the actual calorie counts contained in all those popular fast-food goodies, they will flock to the salads and veggie burgers…or at least decline to supersize.

Of course, that same theory hasn't worked so well on the packaged foods end. Calorie information on retail pack foods has been available for years, yet has hardly dented sales of high-calorie, fat- and sugar-laden snacks, beverages and desserts. Why anyone would think consumers would behave differently in foodservice environments is not explained. Maybe it's another instance of the triumph of optimism over experience.

In any case, the New York survey showed that those most likely to pay attention to posted nutrition information are the same people who already seek out that information anyway. In other words, it's posting to the converted.

As for those who just want a quick, convenient, economic meal, well, they just want a quick, convenient, economic meal and hold the moralizing and finger wagging, please.

“I don't really care too much because I'm going to eat it anyway,” one patron told a New York Times reporter asking whether the calorie postings at a Manhattan McDonald's had any influence on menu decisions.

We guess that would be a “no”…