Adventures in Menu-Reading

There’s a restaurant I like called Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian chain with good (and health-conscious) food, known for its baked goods, strong coffee, and rustic wooden decor that includes one large communal table.

It isn’t inexpensive, but it’s the kind of place that doesn’t mind if you camp out for a while and play backgammon, which I sometimes do.

In the past, I occasionally ordered the Mediterranean platter or maybe the Tuscan platter. But the other day, I noticed something strange on the menu. These two platters had been grouped under a new heading: “Sharing Platters.”

Huh? I’d never shared them before. Had they suddenly gotten larger?

No. In fact, when I asked the manager I was told that they’d actually gotten a bit smaller, thanks to a smaller portion of accompanying bread. So why are they suddenly “sharing platters”?

As we’ve blogged earlier, chain restaurants in New York City must now list caloric information on their menus. As you can see from the menu below, Le Pain Quotidien is complying nicely; which means that these two platters, weighing in at 1,140 calories and 1,320 calories respectively, have been deemed no longer fit for consumption by one person. Now they are “sharing platters” (ah, menu nomenclature), replete with asterisk: “serves two or more.”


So the bad news is that the Mediterranean platter is less appealing than it once was. The good news is that calorie-listing laws may create jobs for clever menu writers.

For further reading, here’s a Financial Times article on Le Pain Quotidien, and an Economist article on New York’s new law, with this surprising bit about Le Pain Quotidien:

Jack Moran, the company’s vice president of branding, initially thought it was “frightening” that customers would be able to see the calories in everything on the menu. So he put together a team to overhaul the menu, cutting portions and eliminating items with lots of calories. This has proved, he says, a “strategic advantage” and boosted business. The company is now planning to provide calorie information voluntarily in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles — even though the local laws do not yet require it.

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  1. Peter says:

    Those two platters are examples of foods which most people probably think are reasonably low calorie, yet in reality are sky-high.

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  2. NYC Eater says:

    I think this new law is fantastic. It still allows the consumer freedom to eat whatever s/he wants, but it provides useful information to aid in the decision-making process. (Sadly, no more muffins for me).

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  3. Dan Q. Public says:

    Well, Mr. Moran, go for your chosen market. If you choose to shrink portions (without, it need not be said, shrinking price) and eliminate fattier (read: more tasty) items, you can have that market. This eater will be continuing down the street.

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  4. GarryS says:

    Looks like an interesting menu. I am surprised, given their French name, that they have only one location in Canada.

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  5. T-Bone says:

    “So the bad news is that the Mediterranean platter is less appealing than it once was. The good news is that calorie-listing laws may create jobs for clever menu writers.”

    More work being required isn’t good news. The good news is more information being made available.

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  6. Corban says:

    In an upscale restaurant that you take dates to, listing the calories will not only cause them to cut back, but it may also have an unintended reduction in romantic atmosphere.

    Money and calories are figures that people pay attention to, sometimes obsessively.

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  7. Zach says:

    So the restaurant is being somewhat deceptive. Since you never shared your platter before and the quantity of food is essentially unchanged, assuming you have an average appetite, you treated that dish as a single entree. New patrons come in and will potentially order the same platter with the intention of sharing. If they also have average appetites, they will be quite disappointed with the quantity of food. That’ll also result in lower revenue.

    I don’t see what this has changed other than making it seem like their food now has fewer calories, which it does not. Possibly it guilts the patron into ordering something cheaper so as to avoid the psychological costs of eating a platter that serves “two or more.” That would damage business as well.

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  8. Denkpaard says:

    I’m not surprised by the calories. Hummus and cheese are calorie-rich. Le Pain Quotidien is actually a Flemish, not Wallonian (Belgian French-speaking) chain called Het Dagelijks Brood. My husband is Belgian and we have eaten at LPQs in New York, DC, Brussels, and Bruges. I can tell you that the menus in Belgium are so incredibly rich (mmm — chocolate bombe) that you can faint from pleasure just thinking about them.

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