What if King County Put Calorie Counts on Menus…

…and no one read them?

By Kathryn Robinson January 9, 2009

King County’s new calorie-count-on-the-menus mandate is utterly brazen and completely inconsistent and therefore thrilling to The Tablehopper!

If you haven’t heard, restaurants with more than 15 locations nationwide were compelled by King County to prominently list calorie and nutrition information on their menus and signboards. (Which is why you now know that a Big Mac has 540 calories and 1040 grams of sodium…and don’t even bother telling me you don’t.)

So my first subversive act of 2009 was to skip about downtown to see what the new law looked like in practice. First visit: McCormick & Schmick’s, one of the "real" restaurants (along with a few other sit-down places like The Ram and Buca di Beppo) to be nailed by this law.

"Oh, we don’t list the calorie counts on every menu," the hostess chirped. "We have this one,"—-she pulled out something that looked like the periodic table—-"for people who ask." So the in-denial obese, for whom this nanny law was purportedly written, are supposed to ask for their enlightenment? Color The Tablehopper skeptical.

On to Ivar’s Fish Bar, where a bread bowl of chowder is 1200. Dollars? Cents? Calories? Who knows? Ivar’s sit-down restaurant a few paces away cooks up lots of the same food, only without the calorie counts. Fewer than 15 locations makes for guiltless pleasures.

Finally I walked up to Red Robin (past The Frankfurter weiner stand—-only a couple locations—-No calories here! I’ll take three!). The host handed me two menus: one filled with full-frontal four-color food porn (OMG, the Whiskey River BBQ Burger!); the other raining its cold shower of pure nutritional buzz-kill (Whiskey River BBQ Burger: 1129 calories.)

Chastened, I went with the Crispy Fish Burger—-one of the leanest options at 600 calories—-and demolished its little fried self, pious as a grapefruitarian. I refused the Bottomless Steak Fries—-‘cause anyone who eats them won’t be—-wondering how all-you-can-eat anything corresponds to the notion of nutritional counting in the first place.

I was just finishing off my 217-calorie salad, chasing its little fried tortilla strips around with my fork, when the server offered me another 320-calorie pot of blue cheese dressing. Okay, honestly, I asked him. How many diners really look at the nutritional information?

"Oh lots," he said. "At first they don’t want to, but then they always end up looking. It’s like driving by a car wreck. You have to look."

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