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Apr 25, 2013 05:00 PM

Nutritional information

What's the scoop on this? Restaurants don't have to give it? I called a popular place, beloved on here and asked for the nutritional info and the guy laughed at me and said "we don't have it." He thought I was crazy.

I know the food is not nutritional, but I'd still like to know what I'm eating.

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  1. What's your point? Only chains with a certain number of units are required to provide this information. You seriously expect every mom-and-pop operation to go to the expense of submitting all of their menu offerings to a lab in order to determine the nutritional information?

    I'd laugh at you, too.

    19 Replies
    1. re: Jack Flash

      How hard could it be? You know what you are putting in there. If you can own a restaurant you can tell people what you are feeding them. We are a very trusting society. Why is a lab needed? When I cook at home I can figure it out. Is it so hard to say this sauce has two cups lard and 15 tablespoons of salt?

      1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

        Those are ingredients. Different than nutritional info.

        1. re: sandylc

          Well I'll take that. Something is better than nothing.

          1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

            The problem is that they would have to research every ingredient they use in every dish offered, and then for each menu item estimate the total caloric content based on the average amount of each ingredient that goes into it. Then they have to format it into a printable document. And, of course, re-do it for any new item they add.

            And they would probably have to stop serving any menu items that vary from day to day - if the meal comes with seasonal vegetables, that's a different nutritional label depending on what the season is and the proportion of the vegetables in the meal.

            For big chains - they can do it once and distribute it to all stores, and their food tends to be much more regulated, they know exactly what's going to be in it, and there isn't variation from day to day or store to store.

            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              <<their food tends to be much more regulated,>>
              i.e. processed, frozen, delivered in portion controlled plastic bags, etc.
              most really fresh /heirloom produce varies in water content, sugar content, etc from batch to batch.
              frozen vegetables all grown from the same gmo seed and harvested by big machines at the same moment are more uniform.

        2. re: LuluTheMagnificent

          Because they don't prepare small batches of everything but do for others. If they use tomato sauce from vat 1, they'd have to know break it down per serving, assuming a heavy handed chef/cook didn't play w/ the ingredients. My friend worked at a chinese american place and said he just threw in whatever he thought belonged in the sweet and sour sauce until it tasted right. As an owner, my FIL went "part time" in his later years in the business. At that point, he went to work at 10-11, got home at midnight and "only" worked Sundays 10-6ish. If you asked him to come up w/ nutritional information for everything they make in the restaurant, he wouldn't have slept.

          Even at home, every time I make a dish, there are big variations. I couldn't give you the nutritional information and that's just one dish for four.

          1. re: chowser

            not even to mention that as the tomato sauce sat in the warming pan during the evening, the water content would be changing from hour to hour.
            even if a dish used a half cup of the sauce every time, the nutritional info would be different depending on how much evaporation took place during the evening

          2. re: LuluTheMagnificent

            If what you're looking for is calorie counts - then your best bet is to find a website that list calorie counts for standard restaurant dishes. There are loads of websites that will have calorie counts where they list items like sphagetti with meatballs, lo mein, etc - and then give the standard calorie count for a certain amount.

            If you're paritcularly interested in the presence (or absence) of a specific ingredient (be it lard, gluten, etc.) - then you'll probably do better asking specifically if there are dishes made with/without a certain few ingredients. However, getting the full list of ingredients (and quantities) may be seen as the equivalent of giving away a recipe - but most likely it's just not information accessible to give to a customer.

            The comments about a lab and nutritional information is when we get into things like total amounts of sodium, vitamins, as well as calories. That's not information that "just anyone" is going to be able to calculate. Not to mention that there's a bakery now being sued for advertising a kind of item as only having x calories and a lab test showed it was actually much more.

            1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

              When you cook at home, you are the only one doing it, and you probably measure things. In restaurants, there may be one line cook that uses an extra tbsp of oil (since I'm pretty sure they don't whip out their measuring spoons every time) than another line cook. The only way to get really accurate nutrition information in a large scale is if the food is cooked exactly the same way, every time, in the exact same amount. That is nearly impossible in a from scratch restaurant. Even when nutrition info is provided, the powers that be allow it to vary as much as 20% more or less than what is stated.

              And, that is the reason I don't eat out that much anymore. I'll do it once a week or less and so when I'm doing it, it's a "splurge" meal and I don't worry about the calories. Eating out often is one of the reasons I got fat in the first place, and I wasn't able to lose weight until I stopped.

              1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

                <<How hard could it be? >>
                unreasonably hard for a small restaurant to do accurately, that's how hard.

                1. re: westsidegal

                  Exactly. I would have no idea what my dishes at home are. I don't measure. It's a dollop here and a dollop there until a tastes right. Multiply that by the number of dishes a restaurant makes. I've seen them back there cooking--ladlesful of whatever. It's only do-able for a chain because the accountants have dictated exactly how much of anything goes into each dish. Chefs/cooks aren't back there w/ measuring cups.

                  1. re: chowser

                    How in the heck can a restaurant make the food taste the same every time and not know what ingredients and the amounts they are using?

                    1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

                      The same every time, really? All the non-chain restaurant dishes I love -- made from scratch -- do not taste the same every time. Red sauce might be sweeter one night than the last, thicker the next. A salad dressing is garlicky-er some nights than others. The porchetta sandwich from a family friend's sub shop sometimes has more pork than broccoli raab, sometimes vice versa. My favorite Thai place's pad kee mao is a little different every time, but always fantastic.

                      1. re: Rilke

                        Right. If I want factory food I'll buy something processed or go to a chain. And be miserable.

                      2. re: LuluTheMagnificent

                        I don't think the issue is about the specific ingredients changing - but rather quantities not being exactly the same every time. Oil and butter quantities used in saut├ęs/searing meat may vary based on the heat of the pan at a particular time of service. Butter/flour ratios in pastry can be impacted by weather/humidity which can change throughout the year.

                        I think the differences that people are mentioning that result in nutritional fluctuations are done so that food is as consistent as possible. If it was proven that using the exact same measurements of every ingredient every single time produced a consistent product (and that is the case for some items) - then it would be the standard. But particularly for non-pastry items, that's just not the case.

                        1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

                          That's not the goal of a restaurant that's not part of a large chain. A large chain restaurant has procurement and portion controls to manage their margins; a small restaurant has to rely more on improvisation and using up things that might otherwise be wasted.

                          Even with chains, one should understand that the information given is based on averages of averages of averages, and thus can be quite wide of the average in reality.

                          Anyone who needs restaurant nutritional information to be precise should either not dine out (something I've abstained from a lot) or be extraordinarily careful about what they order, and only order what they can deconstruct by eye (ditto). Thus, a dry-grilled piece of sirloin steak with no added fat (you have to specify that, because most places will add oil and/or butter before plating - which is why restaurant steaks taste so much better than those made at home without such finishing touches) with steamed vegetables can be easier than a much more complex preparation.

                    2. re: LuluTheMagnificent

                      You are assuming that line cooks measure. The cooks I know generally hate to measure, which is why they are all scared of pastry. Most things are an approximate ratio, made "to taste". Proteins are weighed out for portion and cost control, but even then, there is a range. If the sous chef is portioning a side of halibut and aiming for a 5 ounce portion and cuts one 4-3/4 and one 5-1/2 they will both be considered close enough. Maybe the small one will be cut in half for a tasting menu, maybe the bigger one will be saved for a VIP.

                      In pastry, I measure most things to the gram or fraction of an ounce, but there are still a few items that I just "eyeball", like how much flour to add to the bread, or make "to taste" like when sweetening fruit purees and sorbets.

                      There are various food tracking apps that can help you, like my fitness pal and calorie king. If you cook at home, you should be able to estimate the portions of what you are eating in restaurants, especially if you weigh your foods at home and know what 4 vs 6 ounces of meat look like. Then just add double or triple the added fat and salt that you think something should have, and you have restaurant cooking!

                      1. re: babette feasts

                        I think it would be eye opening for some people to see how the kitchen of some restaurants work, especially Chinese restaurants (probably others but that's where I'm most familiar). Nothing close to measuring.

                      2. re: LuluTheMagnificent

                        The cooking method can affect the nutritional info as well - heat can change the caloric values, vitamin percentages, sodium content, etc. etc. etc.

                    3. As of January 1, 2010 the law required that large restaurant chains with 20 or more locations in California disclosure calorie information only for each standard menu item directly on the menu if the restaurant has a menu, or on the indoor menu board if that is used, or on display tags if those are used in lieu of a menu or indoor menu board. For chain restaurants that have a drive-through area and use a menu board, they must disclose calories, grams of carbohydrates, grams of saturated fat and miligrams of sodium on a brochure that is available upon request.

                      1. It's only required by law in some restaurants and then usually only chain restaurants and many studies have shown that even then the counts are usually inaccurate due to variance in serving at different places.

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                            a million years ago, 1977 to be exact, I was working as the purchasing manager for a large commercial bakery (hence the moniker). We sold our product in our 4 retail bakeries and to restaurants and delis who used the bread, rolls and bagels to make sandwiches, or sold them bulk to their retail customers.

                            We were approached by a cake route distributor who wanted to carry our bread, rolls and bagels in retail packaging and distribute them to their existing supermarket accounts. This way they could share truck space with a non-competing product an deal with the same accounts.

                            We talked with the bakery expert at the CT Dept. of Consumer Protection to find out what the labelling requirements were. He gave us all the information that would have to be on the packages. We then contacted several food science labs to get quotes on finding out the nutritional info on our goods. The cost was exhorbitant. We asked the state expert for help. We thought that maybe the state lab or the state University could help at a lower cost.

                            The suggestion of the state expert: Buy a package of similar size and product (seeded 16 oz rye, 6 pack kaiser rolls, 6 pack sesame bagels) from three brands already in the stores, take an average of the nutritional info on their labels and use those numbers, it will be close enough.

                            So, if Rye bread was 60, 70 and 80 calories per slice, we labelled ours 70, same for vitamin percentages, etc.

                            I left that business in 1978, it continued until bought out by a national company in 1993.

                            The moral of the story: just because it's on the package doesn't mean it's accurate.

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              That makes perfect sense. Just because it seems like something should be accurate doesn't mean it's logistically, financially, and practically feasible to make it so.

                              I am not interested in ultra-processed foods, which is the only type of food that could possibly come close most of the time on nutritional counts.

                              I have long said to pay attention to the INGREDIENTS rather than the COUNTS.

                              I you need the counts for health reasons such as diabetes, you should have a good enough handle on your understanding of food to know what not to put in your mouth.

                          2. Speaking as a (very) small business owner - the time involved in acquiring the nutritional information for my products is onerous. A worker is needed to review and data-enter all the ingredients for each of the recipes. And, depending upon the client/user, portion sizes may vary significantly. Maybe data-entry seems simple enough, but generally, I only hire for positions which directly generate income. My business model (by design) does not support having long-term, non-revenue generating, staff. Basically, if I need nutritional info for one of my recipes, it takes me about 15-25 minutes of my own time to determine and print the information. So.. not a priority.