Should Fast Food Restaurants Be Required to Display Calorie Information on Drive Thru Menu Boards?

Should Fast Food Restaurants Be Required to Display Calorie Information on Drive Thru Menu Boards?

Should Fast Food Restaurants Be Required to Display Calorie Information on Drive Thru Menu Boards?

  • On June 13, 2023

Grabbing a quick bite from a fast-food drive-thru has become a convenient and often necessary option for busy Americans. While the quick-service restaurant (QSR) business model has revolutionized the food industry, there are also calls for more regulation. The question of whether fast-food restaurants should be required to include calorie counts on their drive-thru menu boards has been contentious. Consumers, health advocates, and quick-service restaurants all have different views.

Proponents of displaying calorie information argue that it empowers customers to make more informed choices about their food consumption. By providing easily accessible nutritional details, individuals can better manage their calorie intake and make healthier decisions. However, critics argue that mandatory calorie labeling could be overly burdensome for fast-food businesses, as changing menus on a large scale is too expensive to implement.

Digital signage is a potential game-changer in this debate. With dynamic content management, quick-service restaurants can adapt their menu boards in real-time, providing calorie information and enticing visuals. This technology holds the potential to strike a balance between the need for transparency and the fast-food industry’s marketing strategies.

The background of calorie labeling in fast food restaurants


Calorie labeling laws were first enacted in several U.S. cities and states in the early 2000s. These local initiatives aimed to provide consumers with nutritional information to make informed choices about their food. However, the lack of consistency across different jurisdictions created challenges for national fast-food chains operating in multiple locations.

The federal government took action to address this issue. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act in the US mandated that chain restaurants with 20 or more locations display calorie information on their menus and menu boards. The law covered sit-down restaurants but did not specifically address fast-food drive-thru lanes or limited-time specials. Consequently, many quick-service restaurants (QSRs) were not required to display calorie information on their menu boards.

In response to the evolving landscape, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed a law in 2018 to expand menu labeling requirements. This law stated that calorie information must be provided on menus and menu displays, including those in drive-thru lanes, for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations. This regulation aimed to ensure customers can access calorie information regardless of where they order.

As a result, many fast-food restaurants have adjusted to comply with the FDA law. They have updated their menu designs, incorporated LCD screens for digital displays, and integrated calorie information into their drive-thru menu boards.

Arguments against displaying calorie information on drive-thru menu boards

While there are compelling reasons for displaying calorie information on drive-thru menu boards, opponents argue against such requirements, raising valid concerns and logistical challenges faced by fast food restaurants. 

Critics also question the effectiveness of displaying calorie information on drive-thru menu boards. Some argue that consumers can access calorie information through other channels, such as mobile apps or websites, making it redundant to display on menu boards. 

Some opponents also question the extent to which calorie labeling influences consumer behavior. They argue that personal responsibility and education regarding healthy eating habits should take precedence over imposing regulations on businesses.

The following concerns should be acknowledged to provide a balanced view:

1. Cost and burden on fast food restaurants

Representatives of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) contend that displaying calorie information is expensive and burdensome. They argue that the costs associated with updating digital menu boards and managing content can be significant, particularly for smaller establishments with limited resources. These expenses may increase menu item pricing, potentially impacting customers.

2. Limited space on menu boards

Drive-thru menu boards often have limited space for displaying detailed information. Including calorie information alongside menu items can make the boards cluttered and harder for customers to read and comprehend. This limitation poses a challenge in effectively presenting calorie information without overwhelming or confusing customers during ordering.

3. Real-time updates and menu changes

Fast food restaurants frequently introduce new items and limited-time offers and adjust ingredients based on availability. Displaying accurate calorie information requires real-time updates to reflect these changes. Maintaining accurate information across multiple locations and drive-thru lanes can be logistically challenging, as it necessitates efficient coordination and timely content management.

4. Impact on wait times

Critics argue that displaying calorie information may slow the ordering process and increase wait times. Customers may take longer to make decisions when presented with additional information, potentially leading to congestion at the drive-thru lanes. Balancing the need for providing calorie information with maintaining efficient service and minimizing customer wait times becomes a concern for QSRs.

5. Reinforcing diet culture

Some individuals argue against calorie labeling on the grounds that it can perpetuate harmful attitudes toward body image and reinforce diet culture. They believe that constantly being confronted with calorie numbers may trigger or exacerbate disordered eating behaviors, leading to an unhealthy obsession with calories and weight. Critics argue that focusing solely on calorie content can overshadow other important aspects of food, such as nutritional value and overall balance.

Arguments for displaying calorie information on drive-thru menu boards


Displaying calorie information on drive-thru menu boards has gained support for the following compelling reasons:

1. Promotes healthy eating habits

By providing calorie information, fast-food restaurants empower customers to make informed choices about their menu items. This transparency encourages individuals to consider the calorie content of their selected meals and adjust their selections accordingly, promoting healthier food choices.

2. Enhances transparency

Calorie information on drive-thru menu boards offers customers valuable insight into the nutritional content of menu items. This provides transparency regarding calorie counts, enabling individuals to assess the healthiness of their chosen options.

3. Research supports calorie labeling

Research findings support the positive impact of calorie labeling on consumer behavior. Studies have consistently shown that calorie information prompts individuals to consume fewer calories and make healthier food choices. When customers know the calorie content, they are more likely to opt for lower-calorie options or adjust portion sizes to align with their dietary goals.

4. Positive industry impact

Implementing calorie labeling can incentivize fast food restaurants to reformulate their recipes and introduce healthier menu options. When customers have access to calorie information, there is an increased demand for lower-calorie alternatives. This can encourage the industry to offer more nutritious options and improve the overall quality of fast food offerings.

5. Equal access to information

Calorie labeling ensures that all customers, regardless of their health literacy or knowledge about nutrition, have access to crucial information about the food they are consuming. This promotes equity and empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their meals, regardless of their level of nutritional expertise.

6. Allergen and ingredient information:

Technology can provide more comprehensive information beyond calorie counts, such as allergen and ingredient details. Digital signage and mobile applications can display comprehensive information about potential allergens and ingredients, ensuring that customers with specific dietary restrictions or allergies have access to crucial information to make safe and informed food choices.

7. Integration with health-tracking devices

Calorie labeling could integrate with health tracking devices, such as fitness trackers or health apps, allowing customers to seamlessly monitor their calorie intake and track their nutritional goals. This integration can facilitate a more holistic approach to health management, encouraging individuals to make mindful choices based on their personal health data.

The role of digital signage in displaying calorie information on drive-thru menu boards


Whether you agree or disagree with calorie labeling, some restaurants have to comply with the current regulations. If you do have to display calorie information, working with a digital signage provider is beneficial.

Digital signage technology plays a crucial role in the debate because the technology offers practical solutions to address the challenges associated with implementing calorie labeling while providing numerous benefits for businesses and customers.

First, it’s important to note that outdoor digital menu boards are highly flexible and adaptable. They allow fast-food establishments to easily update and display real-time nutritional information, overcoming the logistical challenges of limited space and frequent menu changes. Unlike static menu boards, digital signage enables quick adjustments by updating the content through a content management system (CMS), eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming reprinting of physical signs.

Keyser specializes in digital signage solutions and can help fast-food restaurants comply with calorie labeling regulations while enhancing the overall customer experience. We offer robust outdoor displays with the durability to withstand weather conditions and provide energy-efficient solutions. By leveraging high-quality digital signage technology, restaurants can meet regulatory requirements, promote transparency, and engage customers with dynamic visuals and engaging content.

Start implementing drive-thru menu boards with Keyser

The calorie labeling debate presents compelling arguments on both sides. Research supports that calorie labeling promotes healthy eating habits and provides transparency to customers. However, there are concerns about the costs, burdens, and logistical challenges associated with implementing calorie information displays. Fortunately, digital menu board solutions are available.

At Keyser, we are committed to bringing your digital signage visions to life, whether your restaurant needs to display calorie information or not. Our technology systems offer features like real-time content updates, targeted messaging, and audience measurement capabilities. Contact us today and explore the possibilities of digital drive-thru menu boards. Empower your customers with transparency, promote healthier choices, and stay ahead in the competitive fast-food industry.


Leave Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *