NEW YORK (AP) – A ban on trans fat-laden cooking oils and a rule requiring fast-food restaurants to post calories on the menu officially went into effect throughout New York City on Sunday, but few eateries were complying with the calorie policy.
Leaflets tacked onto the wall at one midtown McDonald’s said, “0 Grams Trans Fat and Still Loving the Taste!” But the restaurant kept the nutritional information off the menus, relegating it to a chart on the back of the fliers: 740 calories for a quarter pounder with cheese, 620 for a McFlurry.
Even the leaflets were not in evidence at several nearby McDonald’s. “I have no comment,” said a manager at 10th Avenue and 34th Street.
McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Holdings Inc. were among the chains refusing to follow the new menu rule, which would require that certain fast food restaurants list calorie counts next to menu items in type that is at least as large as the price.
With city officials not planning to issue fines for violations of the new rules until Oct. 1, most chains seem to be holding out in the hopes that a New York Restaurant Association lawsuit in federal court will get the calorie rule thrown out.
By contrast, most fast-food chains reversed their initial opposition to the new trans fat ban and implemented it ahead of Sunday’s deadline, the city Health Department reported. The first phase of the trans fat regulation applies to oils, shortening and margarines used for frying and spreading – not to baked goods or prepared foods, or oils used to deep-fry dough or cake batter. These are covered by the second phase of the regulation, which takes effect on July 1, 2008.
But if the transition away from trans fats is going smoothly so far, the same cannot be said for the rule about posting calorie content. In the lawsuit over the regulation, the eateries argued that their First Amendment rights were being violated, and complained that the rule would turn each of their menu boards into a cluttered mess.
At one Burger King restaurant on Sunday, the nutritional information including calories was posted on a wall where few customers waiting to order their food appeared to notice it.
If they had, they could have learned that a triple Whopper with cheese has 1,230 calories – 1,070 without mayonnaise – and a king-size chocolate shake has 1,260. The recommended daily calorie intake for an adult woman is about 1,800.
Lowell Stephens, a manager at the Burger King, said the information had been posted in the restaurant for at least a year and a half.
“A lot of people know that it’s there,” he said. “They can read it any time.”
But when the city does start cracking down, posting the calories on a chart on the wall won’t be good enough. City health officials have said that the information must be on the menus themselves, not on hard-to-see material tucked somewhere else in the store.
“It needs to be at the point of purchase,” Health Department spokesman Andrew Tucker said Sunday. “The point being that customers can actually see it when they’re deciding what to order.”
Some restaurant companies said they hoped the city would accept compromise measures.
Starbucks Inc. spokesman Brandon Borrman said the chain’s 220 New York City coffee shops would offer nutritional information on spiral-bound flip books set up on the same counters where customers get their milk and sugar.
Borrman said putting calorie counts on the menu would be problematic.
“The menu boards become very visually complex when you do that,” he said.
But some chains said they would comply with the calorie rule.
One of them was the Subway sandwich shop chain, which began putting up new menus including calorie counts at its 340 New York City locations in the past few days.
“We’ve always been upfront about our nutritional information,” said Les Winograd, a spokesman with the chain, which is owned by the Milford, Conn.-based Doctor’s Associates Inc. “We wanted to put our best foot forward.”
Complying with the regulation is less of a leap for Subway, which has marketed itself as a healthier alternative to other types of fast food.
In the past, the restaurant has put some health information on its menu boards for sandwiches with fewer than 6 grams of fat. It puts some of the same info on its napkins and cups.
The new menus list calorie counts for the six-inch versions of each sandwich. People who want the footlong sub can either do the math themselves or refer to a range listed elsewhere on the panel.
Manager Samia Khan was busy updating the nutritional information posted at one midtown Subway on Sunday. She said her clientele appreciates the effort.
“Most of our customers like the turkey,” she said. “Because it’s low fat.”
Associated Press Writer David B. Caruso contributed to this report.