Menu Labeling for Restaurants: The Complete Summary

by Danielle Starin, MS, RD on November 26, 2014  |  Topics: Restaurants

The FDA released a 395 page document listing all of the regulations for menu labeling.  The Nutritionix Expert Nutrition Policy Team has spent the last 36 hours studying the document to create the most extensive summary of the regulations.

If you have specific questions on how the regulations will affect your concept, please submit your question in the form below and one of our Nutrition Policy Experts will reach out with a personalized response.

Date to Comply and Enforcement

  • Must comply by May 5th, 2017
  • Enforcement rules have not yet been established however the FDA ensures that they will be set prior to the date of compliance.

Who Must Comply?

  • Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, and offering substantially the same menu items
    • Those not covered under this description can register with the FDA every other year to become subject to these regulations
  • Bakeries
  • Cafeterias
  • Coffee Shops
  • Convenience Stores
  • Delicatessens
  • Food Service Facilities within Entertainment Venues, such as:
    • Amusement Parks
    • Bowling Alleys
    • Movie Theaters
  • Food Service Vendors, such as
    • Ice Cream Shops
    • Mall Cookie Counters
  • Food Take-Out & Delivery
  • Grocery Stores
  • Retail Confectionery Stores
  • Superstores
  • Quick Service Restaurants
  • Full Service Restaurants

Defining Menu/Menu Board

  • Menu or Menu Board: “Primary writing of the restaurant or similar retail food establishment from which a customer makes an order selection, including, but not limited to, breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, dessert menus, beverage menus, children’s menu’s, other specialty menus, electronic menus and menus on the Internet.“
  • Menu mailed as a flyer to a customer’s home could be considered “primary writing” from which the customer will make an order selection

How to Format the Calories

  • Calories must be listed adjacent to the name/price of the associated standard menu item
  • Rounding
    • Calories declared to the nearest 5-calorie increment up to 50, and 10-calorie increment above 50
    • Amount <5 calories can be expressed at 0
  • Word choice
    • The word “Calories” or “Cal” must appear at the top of a column or next to each calorie amount
  • Color/font
    • When displaying “Calories” or “Cal” above calories in a column
      • Font can be no smaller than the name of the item or price, whichever is smaller
      • The color and the font must be the same or at least as conspicuous as the standard menu item name and have the same contrasting background
    • When displaying “Calories” or “Cal” next to each calorie amount
      • Font must be the same size as the number of calories
      • The color must be the same and have the same contrasting background as the number of calories

Required Statements

  • All menus and menu boards must include the Succinct Calorie Intake Statement & Availability Statement
  • Succinct Calorie Intake Statement: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary”
    • To appear at the bottom of each menu page immediately above availability statement
    • In font no smaller than smallest calorie declaration and in a color as conspicuous as the calorie declaration
  • Availability Statement: “Additional nutrition information available upon request.”
    • To appear at bottom of first page with menu items and on every menu page
    • In font no smaller than smallest calorie declaration and in a color as conspicuous as the calorie declaration

Complete Nutrition Available On-Site

  • Must be available in written form on the premises of the restaurant to provide to customer upon request
  • Flexibility to use different types of media – flyers, posters, booklets, kiosks, computer
    • An example of how to display information on-site:

Required Written Nutrients

  • Complete written nutrition information must be available on the premises of each location and provided to customers upon request
  • Nutrient required includes:
    • Total Calories
    • Fat Calories
    • Total Fat
    • Saturated Fat
    • Trans Fat
    • Cholesterol
    • Sodium
    • Total Carbohydrate
    • Dietary Fiber
    • Sugars
    • Protein
  • Vitamins and minerals are optional
  • When changes to recipes are made, nutrition information must be updated prior to launch onsite
  • Information must be provided for each variable menu item (see definition below) separately

Where To Get Nutrition Information

  • Nutrient Databases
  • Laboratory Analytical Testing
  • Cookbooks
  • Be able to provide FDA with substantiating nutrient values upon request
  • Must have employee sign document verifying that all nutrition information is correct

Variable Items, Combos & Toppings

  • Variable Menu Item definition – “A standard menu item that comes in different flavors, varieties, or combinations, and is listed as a single menu item.”
  • Flavors
    • Calories must be listed separately for items that come in different flavors (e.g., different flavors of ice cream, soft drinks, donuts, dips, chicken grilled or fried)
    • If all flavors are not listed on menu such as “soft drinks” the calories must be listed with a slash if 2 flavors (e.g., “200/250”) or a range if more than 2 flavors (e.g., “100-350”)
    • If the variety is only for a particular part of a menu item (for example: sandwich with a choice between multiple cheeses) calories can be displayed with a slash for 2 options and range for more than 2 options
  • Combos
    • Do not have to declare calories separately when mixing and matching standard menu items for a special price (e.g., pick 2) if standard menu items are already on menu
    • If only 2 options are available for an item (e.g., sandwich with fries or with fruit) provide calories for both options with forward slash between
    • If combination meal offers increased/decreased sizes, must declare meal options’ calories with a slash for two options and range for more
  • Toppings
    • If toppings can be added to a menu item, the calories for the basic preparation of the menu item as well as the calories for each topping must be declared separately
    • When the portion size of a topping decreases as more toppings are added, calories for the topping may be represented as the calories for the topping amount used in the single topping menu item with a specification that the calorie declaration is for a single topping menu item
  • Sizes
    • For items with different sizes, calories for basic preparation of each size and toppings calories for each size must be displayed

Foods on Display & Self-Service

  • Food on Display definition: “restaurant or restaurant-type food that is visible to the customer before the customer makes a selection, so long as there is not an ordinary expectation of further preparation by the consumer before consumption.”
  • Self-Service Food definition: available at a salad bar, buffet line, cafeteria line or where the customer serves themselves
  • Calories can be posted to these foods by being accompanied with signs in the following ways:
    • An individual sign adjacent to the food that provides calories per serving
    • A sign attached to a sneeze guard above each specific menu item
      • The sign must be clearly associated with the corresponding food item
    • A single sign or place card that lists the name and calorie declaration for multiple items
      • Customer must be able to view this posting as they are making menu selections
  • For self-service soft drinks, the declaration of calories must be based on full volume of the cup (without ice) and description of cup size
  • A packaged food on display that already has a Nutrition Facts label is sufficient


  • Alcoholic beverages that are standard menu items (e.g., listed on the menu) are required to have calories on the menu and complete written nutrition information materials
  • Alcoholic beverages that are ordered by customers at the bar but are not listed on the menu are exempt
  • The USDA nutrition database is an acceptable source for obtaining information on nutrition content of alcohol
  • Alcohol used to make mixed drinks or alcohol that is on display behind a bar is exempt (e.g., bottles of spirits used to make alcoholic beverage menu items that are not menu items individually)


  • Variable menu item (see above definition)
  • Custom order definition: a food order that is prepared in a specific manner based on an individual consumer’s request, which requires the covered establishment to deviate from its usual preparation of a menu item. Calorie declaration is not necessary for these items.
    • Example: “Meat Lover’s” pizza containing ground meat and sausage as a standard menu item, and a customer orders a “Meat Lover’s” pizza without sausage, would make that order a custom order.
  • Toppings
    • Calories must be separately declared for each topping listed on the menu or menu board
    • The menu or menu board must specify that the calories are added to the calories contained in the basic preparation of the menu item
    • Can use a range for each topping to represent the added calories across various sizes of the menu item
    • Can group toppings that have the same calorie amounts
      • after rounding as described under the formatting section
      • Must specify that the calorie declaration represents the calorie amount for each individual topping
    • If the general term, “toppings” is used on a menu or menu board, but the individual toppings are not listed
      • Calories must be declared for each option with a slash between the two calorie declarations where only two options are available (e.g., “150/250 calories”) or as a range where more than two options are available (e.g., “100-250 calories”).
  • Topping quantities vary by size
    • Specify calories for:
      • Basic preparation of the menu item for each size
      • Calories for each topping listed on the menu or menu board. Calories must either be:
        • declared separately for each size of the menu item
        • declared using a slash between the two calorie declarations for each topping where only two sizes of the menu item are available (e.g., “adds 150/250 cal”) or as a range for each topping where more than two sizes of the menu item are available (e.g., “adds 100-250 cal”)

Foods Not Covered by Regulations

  • Condiments
  • Seasonal or temporary menu items that are on the menu for <60 days
  • Daily specials
  • Food sold on vehicles such as food trucks, planes, and trains


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Danielle Colley, MS, RD
Danielle Starin, MS, RD
Director, Nutrition
[email protected]


About Nutritionix:

Nutritionix is the world’s leading provider of interactive nutrition tools for restaurant chains.  Our web-based management platform allows restaurants to instantly publish nutrition data to the web, mobile web, and digital menu boards. Nutritionix offers menu labeling consulting services to ensure your brand stays compliant.  For more information, contact us via email at [email protected]

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