Consumers give their views on eating out

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 23rd June 2008

The Food Standards Agency has published a survey of more than 2,000 people across the UK that provides a snapshot of what consumers want when they eat out.

The findings show that 85% of people agreed with the statement that restaurants, pubs and cafes have a responsibility to make it clear what is in the food they serve. In addition, when asked where respondents would expect to see nutritional information for it to be most useful, 81% of people said they would like to see it at the point when they order food, such as on the menu in a restaurant, or visible when they are buying a sandwich or a muffin in a coffee shop or cafe. In contrast, only 2% of respondents said they would find it useful on company websites.

When given various options, 63% of people said they would like information about what is in their food when they eat out – 41% wanted information and food to be made healthier by catering establishments, while 22% wanted food to remain the same but wanted nutrition information about it.FSA Chief Executive, Tim Smith, believes that consumers deserve to have a greater amount of information available to them with regard to nutritional content of restaurant and café food. “When we buy food from a retail outlet, it’s very clear from the packet what’s in the food and we then have control how much salt and fat we add at home,” he said. “When we eat out, we are asked to suspend any interest in nutritional content of food as the information isn’t universally available.”

“We know that some companies are already doing a really good job and they are getting behind us with this work. Some of this work isn’t as visible and we know companies are starting from different points and we’re actively working with different parts of the industry to achieve more progress. There is no reason why I shouldn’t see the same information, perhaps presented in a different way, when I eat out of home than when I shop for food in a supermarket,” he concluded.

The FSA is working to encourage as many catering companies as possible to provide healthier meals. Discussions have already been held with a range of quick service and family dining restaurants, cafes, sandwich shops and pub chains so that this part of the industry participates in the Agency’s salt and saturated fat activity.

The Agency added that “the diversity in the catering sector means that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate” and is consequently working toward a new approach intended to be flexible. The traffic light and recommended daily intake approaches have been floated but the FSA suggest other approaches may be used instead.

The survey follows the introduction of new legislation by the New York City Health Department designed to reduce obesity levels, which requires chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menu boards. The laws only apply to chains in New York City with more than 15 restaurants nationwide, meaning that 10% of all restaurants in New York are affected. The laws have been met with disapproval from food retailers with the National Restaurant Association since appealing against them.

It would not be surprising for such legislation to be seen in Australia and the UK – if it is found to be successful.