Calorie Counting in Times Square


The law that will force New York restaurants with more than 15 branches nationwide to post calories on menus was to go into effect today, but it has been delayed.

The Department of Health says that the district court judge has now set Friday the 25th as the new date for the law to go into effect, and pushed the date for issuing fines back to June 6. This is to allow time for legal maneuvering on the part of the NY Restaurant Association, which is now going to the Second Circuit appeals court to seek a stay of the law. The court will likely decide on whether or not to grant a stay today.

Because the status of the law seems to change every time we turn around, there’s a lot of confusion out there about when restaurants will need to comply.

I went to Times Square, the epicenter of chain restaurant-dom, where the calorie law will make the biggest splash, to see how it was going down.

Terrifying ribs from TGI Friday’s after the jump.

At TGI Friday’s, the new menus that list calories are already in use. And it is terrifying. Those would have to be some mighty fine ribs to make them worth 1910 calories. Salads range from about 900 to 1300, and innocuous-sounding choices like a grilled chicken sandwich weighs in at 1360. The sirloin steak, on the other hand, has only 290.

Calorie counts have gotten enough publicity lately that those numbers may not be such a shock, but seeing them there on the menu is probably enough to give anyone pause. I’m generally against banning certain foods (like foie gras) but you can’t really argue with the value of more information. If you think those ribs are worth nearly 2,000 calories, you are welcome to order them.

At Starbucks, the calories went up on the menu boards last week. So, we discover that the blended creme green tea is 650 calories, and the large iced cafe mocha is 400. Surprisingly, most customers I talked to hadn’t noticed the change—maybe because most people go in knowing what they want, and don’t look at the menu.

But Joan Wilson, who works nearby at MTV, told me that she switched from whole to skim milk for her daily large cinnamon dolce latte. The whole milk version was 400 calories, while the one with skim milk is 160 calories. “I hate skim milk,” Joan said. “But with the calorie difference, it’s not even a question.”

None of the other chains in Times Square had instituted the calorie listings yet. The managers at Sbarro and McDonald’s hadn’t even heard of the law.

At the Olive Garden, the manager said that he was waiting for word from above. “This is a corporate-type situation,” he said. “I think people are going to eat what they’re going to eat, good or bad.”

At Bubba Gump’s Shrimp, maitre d’s Carlos Gonzales and Gio Sykes were happy to give me their thoughts on the matter (“I don’t know if this is such a good thing for restaurants, but you know, at the end of the day, people are going to eat what they want to eat.”) until they were cut off by Aaron Vazquez, the manager, who told me brightly that everyone at Bubba Gump is “very excited about it.”