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Restaurant Musings – Why Restaurant Calorie Counts Suck

capital grille.jpgI’m all for the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but I wish we could reinstate it for restaurants (fast food chains excluded).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m better off knowing the cold, hard truth that a Big Mac is 540 calories, a Whopper is 670 calories, and a vanilla shake is 550 calories.  That’s what you expect from fast food joints with counter service, heat lamps, drive-thrus, and deep fryers.  Now when I find myself at a roadside McDonald’s, I abstain from ordering a milkshake and settle for a small french fries, which clocks in at 230 calories.  I can live with that.  I’m all for the new laws that force chains like Starbuck’s to post the calorie count of their 440-calorie java chip frappuccino and 460-calorie blueberry scone.

But where dining out is concerned, I’m a big believer that ignorance is bliss.  If I’m at a restaurant with table service, a liquor license, a chef, and homemade salad dressing, I don’t want to run the numbers in my head.  I don’t even want to be tempted to tally the calories. That could kill anyone’s buzz, no matter how good the drinks are.  I don’t run into this problem often, but I ate dinner at The Capital Grille the other night. (I was invited by a serial steakhouse guy.)  I ordered a glass of wine, then picked up the menu.  (Menus are my favorite reading material.)  That’s when I made the gruesome discovery of calorie counts listed for every single dish on the menu.  I had been daydreaming about starting with a wedge until I read the number (gasp!) 915 alongside it.  I had come to dinner with a game plan that was quickly falling apart.  I wanted creamed spinach, which happens to be 720 calories and 930-calorie Lyonnaise potatoes.

Suddenly, I lost my appetite.  The healthiest dish on the menu was a side of asparagus (40 calories), but only if you ordered it without the 200-calorie Hollandaise sauce.  Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? The least caloric options were a 440-calorie filet mignon and 120-calorie shrimp cocktail (add 80 calories for cocktail sauce).  “I’ve been eating way too much steak,” my friend said.  “I’m going to get the roast chicken.”  His voice trailed off as he read the calorie count beside it. 1500 calories!   Aside from the lobster mac & cheese and potatoes au gratin, the roast chicken was more calories than anything else on the menu, even the cheesecake.

The fair thing to do is enforce a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in restaurants.  There should be two sets of menus.  If customers want to know the truth, they can ask for the menu with the calorie counts.  If customers don’t want to know, the server should hand them a menu one without that information.  That’s one of the reasons I like the restaurant formerly known as Houston’s.  Instead of giving in and disclosing the numbers, the restaurant chain changed the name of its Manhattan restaurants to Hillstone and tweaked the menu just enough to differentiate them from the Houston’s restaurant brand.  Personally, I don’t want to know how many calories are in their dangerously addictive spinach dip.  Now, I can remain blissfully ignorant.

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