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.
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.