People are increasingly returning to dine-in restaurants, and take-out meals from such establishments continue to remain popular. This growing reliance on restaurant food raises questions about the nutritional quality and health risks of menu items. Restaurant foods are usually higher in saturated fat, sodium, and calories, raising the risk of obesity and heart disease. To promote public health and assist consumers in making informed food choices at the point of purchase, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced Menu Labeling Requirements on December 1, 2014, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. These requirements also help restaurant operators ensure that the nutritional quality and composition of their menu items are verified. 

Part 1 of this article reviewed the establishments, terms, and types of menu items covered by the Menu Labeling Requirements. The conclusion of this article series discusses the physical parameters for menu displays and labeling, as well as the guidelines for variable items on a menu, to help restaurant operators comply with the requirements.

General Menu Requirements 

If the calorie declaration for standard menu item is provided on the sign with the name and price of the food, then the font size used to display the calorie count must not be smaller than the font size used to display the associated menu item's name or price—whichever is smaller. In terms of color, the calorie declaration must be displayed in the same color as the price or name of the associated menu item. If other colors are used, they must be similar to those used for the associated menu item. Likewise, the total number of calories must be set against the same or a similar contrasting background. The law requires calories to be posted in a clear, visible, and easily readable manner. Above all, this information should be easily associated with the menu item to which it refers. 

Likewise, statement of availability and succinct statement must also be clearly and prominently displayed. This can be accomplished by selecting the font type, size, color, and background with care to ensure that they are clearly visible and easy to read. The availability statement follows a similar rule. The font size used to display the availability statement should not be smaller than the font size used to display any calorie declaration on the same menu or menu board. The font color must be the same or similar to the font color used for calorie declarations, and it must be set against the same or similar background.

Menu Boards, Electronic Menus, and Internet Menus

If a covered foodservice establishment uses multiple menu boards without rotating displays, then the succinct statement and availability statement can be listed only once in any of the panels. However, if one or more digital menu boards have rotating displays, then the succinct statement and availability statement should be displayed on each rotating display. 

If a foodservice establishment has an electronic menu or an internet menu, then the rules for posting calories are the same as for a standard menu, as long as they meet the definition of a "menu" in the regulations. Calories may not be listed on the same webpage as the associated menu item. Covered restaurants may use electronic menu boards for self-service items, as long as the customer can easily view the information when selecting food.

Home Delivery and Takeout

Restaurants that offer regular menu items for home delivery, or provide a separate takeout menu, must include calorie count, statement of availability, and a succinct statement in their home delivery and takeout menus.

Food Served at Kiosks 

If the foodservice establishment operates a kiosk where food items are listed on a menu or menu board, then the calorie content of each item must be declared on the menu or menu board.

Menu Labeling Standards for Various Foods

The criteria for meeting menu labeling standards for various types of food offered in foodservice establishments are outlined below.

Wine Sold by Glass or Bottle

When wine is sold by the glass, calories must be declared for each glass; however, when wine is sold by the bottle but served by the glass, both the number of glasses in the bottle and the calorie count per glass must be specified.

As an example: Red Wine 180 Cal/glass, 6 glasses per bottle 

Drinks from Dispenser, Cooler, or Display Unit

If the restaurant serves beverages from a dispenser, the calories must be calculated and posted depending on the total capacity of the serving glass (i.e., fluid ounces that the glass can hold). If beverages are served in different sizes of glasses or cups, then the restaurant must state the glass or cup size.

As an example:


Wild Cherry Cola

Small, 12 fl oz

Medium, 20 fl oz

Large, 30 fl oz







For beverages that are not self-serve, the Menu Labeling Requirements direct establishments to calculate and post the calorie count for a standard serving of the beverage with a standard ice fill. 

When beverages are served from a cooler or display unit without a nutrition label, the calorie content must be declared in the same manner as for food-on-display items. Additional calorie information is not needed if the beverage has a nutrition label, such as bottled beer (packaged commodity).

Variable Items on a Menu

Variable items are standard menu items that come in a variety of flavors, variants, or combinations and are listed as single menu items on the menu or menu board. Some examples of such items are soft drinks, pizza, sandwiches, or doughnuts. A standard menu item is not deemed variable if it is only available in a few sizes and does not come in any other flavors or combinations. Covered establishments must provide calorie declarations and written nutritional information for variable items on the menu, as well as separate calorie and nutritional information for the items' various toppings, flavors, or combinations. 

If the variable menu item does not have numerous flavors or variations specified on the menu, but rather a general description, such as soft drinks or ice cream, then the calorie declaration will be based on the number of flavors and varieties offered. If the individual variable menu item has only two options or describes flavors or varieties for only a portion of the item, then the calories must be posted by separating the two calorie declarations with a backslash (/).

As an example: Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Cheddar or Swiss) Cal 255/210

When more than two options are offered, the law requires calories to be declared in ranges in the pattern XX–YY, with the lowest calorie written first, followed by the highest calorie.

As an example: Sandwich Combo Cal 550800

When an individual variable item, such as pizza, is offered with multiple toppings to choose from, calories must be declared separately for each individual topping, indicating that calories for each topping are added to calories in the basic preparation of that variable menu item.

As an example:

Choice of Toppings

Green Peppers 2030 Cal

Black Olives 4565 Cal

Added calories for one-topping pizza

When establishments serve multiple toppings for consumers to choose from for an individual variable item such as pizza, calories might be declared in ranges.

As an example: 

Margherita Pizza: Small (10") 600 Cal, Medium (12") 800 Cal, Large (14") 1,000 Cal

Choice of Toppings

Green Peppers 2030 Cal

Black Olives 4565 Cal

Foodservice establishments can declare calories per slice for pizza, which comes in various sizes with various toppings listed on the menu or menu board for customers to choose from.

As an example: 

Margherita Pizza (Calories per slice): Small (6 slices) 100 Cal, Medium (8 slices) 135 Cal, Large (10 slices) 170 Cal


Added Cal (per slice)










Self-serve Items Served in Discrete Units

For items that are self-serve and sold in discrete units, such as slices of meatloaf with gravy, calories must be disclosed for each standard food item offered on the menu or menu board.

As an example: Mushroom Chicken Loaf with Gravy: 250 Calories per slice of mushroom chicken loaf with gravy

Standard Menu Items Sold as a Multiple-Serving Item

For a standard menu item that is served as a multiple-serving item, calories must be declared for the whole item as it is usually prepared and sold.

As an example: New York Style Pizza 700 Cal

Standard Menu Items Served in Discrete Servings

If a standard menu item is typically prepared and sold in discrete units, then the units and total number of units in the menu item must be declared, and the calorie count must be declared as per discrete serving unit.

As an example: New York Style Pizza 175 Cal/Slice, 4 Slices

Multiple Standard Menu Items Served on a Single Platter

If a restaurant serves a variety of standard menu items on a single platter, then calories must be declared for either the entire platter or for each type of discrete serving unit.

As an example: 

Seafood Platter 730 Cal 

85 Cal/Blue Swimmer Crab, 4 Blue Swimmer Crabs; 10 Cal/Large Prawn, 6 Large Prawns; 15 Cal/Medium Clam, 8 Clams; 35 Cal/Scallop, 6 Scallops

Combination Meals

Combo meals are regularly sold in restaurants. If a combo meal is made up of various standard menu items and calorie information for those standard menu items is posted on the menu or menu board, then foodservice establishments are not required to show calorie declarations where a combo meal is pictured. 

When a combination meal is served in two sizes and the customer can choose to increase or decrease the size of the combination meal, the term "adds" must be used to declare calories for the larger combination size, and "subtracts" for the smaller combination size. When two varieties of a particular item are offered in a combination meal in increased and decreased combination sizes, the calorie counts for both varieties must be declared using a backslash. A range must be used for three or more varieties.

As an example:

Adds 120/140 Calories 

Subtracts 120–140 Calories

Beer on Tap 

If beer is served at the bar counter from the tap and is listed as a standard menu item on the menu or menu boards, then the calories must be posted on the menu or menu boards. If it is not a standard menu item, it will be classified as food on display. Alcoholic beverages that are classified as food on display and are not self-serve are exempt from labeling requirements FDA law.

If alcoholic beverages are described in generic terms on the menu and there are three or more varieties, calories can be listed in ranges.

As an example: Sparkling Wine (80–110 calories)

Alcoholic Beverages with Different Varieties and Flavors

When each variety or flavor is listed separately in the menu, calories must be declared for each individual variety.

As an example:

Sparkling Wine A (80 calories)

Sparkling Wine B (90 Calories)

Sparkling Wine C (110 Calories)

If alcoholic beverages, such as wines, are available in different varieties and flavors that have the same calorie count, then a single calorie declaration can be used. 

As an example:

Dry Sparkling Wines (80 Calories)

Dry Sparkling Wine A

Dry Sparkling Wine B

A single calorie declaration can also be used when several varieties and flavors of alcoholic beverages (such as beers) having the same calorie count are grouped in one section of the menu.

As an example:

Beer by the Glass (150 Calories)

Beer A

Beer B

Grab-and-Go Foods

Covered foodservice establishments that serve grab-and-go items (also classified as self-service foods), such as packaged sandwiches or salads, must include calorie information on the packaging. If the packaging label of the grab-and-go food contains additional nutrient information, then foodservice outlets are not required to post a statement of availability for that additional nutrient information; otherwise, a statement of availability is required to be posted on a large menu board or sign near the grab-and-go food item in a way that can be easily read at the time of purchase or order placement.

Self-serve Foods

Calorie declarations for self-service foods, such as those offered at buffets, can be placed on a prominently visible sign or on the sneeze guard if the menu board is not visible to guests. The item's name and serving or unit size must be listed.

All-You-Can-Eat Buffet 

Foodservice outlets that serve multiple self-serve items as standard menu items on a buffet are offered the following alternatives for posting calorie information:

  • On individual signs or placards close to the food items.
  • On individual signs attached to the sneeze guard just above the food items. Easily interchangeable paper inserts or gel clings can be used. It is essential to note that the sneeze guard glass must be placed at around chest height and above the food to meet food safety and hygiene requirements.
  • On a single sign or placard giving the names of multiple self-service items, their calories, and serving sizes, provided the sign or placard is clearly visible to customers.

If the menu board is not clearly visible when customers are making their selection at the self-service station in the buffet, then calorie information must be displayed on a large sign. The calories must be displayed for each food item offered on the buffet.

As an example: Doughnut, with Chocolate 270 Cal

If a standard menu item is not sold in discrete units, then calories must be provided per scoop or per cup. When serving utensils, such as ladles, dispense standard servings, the calories are stated based on the serving utensils—provided that the serving utensils dispense uniform servings at all times.

When items served at buffets appear on the menu or menu board, the law requires that a referring statement for calorie declaration must be posted adjacent to the name or price of the food item on the menu or menu board directing the customer to the buffet counter.

As an example: "See the buffet for calorie information"

Responsibility for Complying with Menu Labeling Requirements

Covered establishments are responsible for ensuring that these regulatory requirements are met consistently across the country. Approaching the requirements of menu labeling standards for the first time can be difficult for covered restaurants. To comprehend the requirements of the law, it is important to refer to FDA's final rule (21 CFR § 101.9). Covered establishments must understand the standards, register the establishment, comply with the regulations, educate staff to ensure consistency in adhering to menu labeling rules, and contact the FDA when necessary. To ensure a seamless implementation process, foodservice businesses must consult an expert in implementing menu labeling requirements to oversee the execution of standards.

Public health is both a national and a global priority. Menu labeling legislation has assisted consumers in making healthier food choices while also protecting public health. FDA has played a critical role in influencing such legislation. Foodservice establishments are now required to demonstrate their commitment to public health protection by consistently adhering to menu labeling regulations.