With mandatory nutritional labeling on menus poised to kick in soon, you’d think the dietary scolds at the Center For Science in the Public Interest would temper their criticism of full-service restaurants. No such luck, as the group is again calling out casual dining chains with its “Xtreme Eating 2010” list. CSPI still doesn’t seem to get that huge portions are why many customers go to restaurants in the first place.
Restaurant chains have been working overtime ever since mandatory nutritional labeling became law last spring. Research chefs have been busy reformulating many existing menu items and creating new ones. Why? Chains hope to avoid nutritional “sticker shock” and have plenty of options ready when the first waves of calorie counters hits their operations once menu labeling goes into effect.
If, that is, waves of calorie counters actually emerge. As CSPI’s Xtreme Eating list inadvertently points out, some of the industry’s most successful chains have built strong businesses by offering hefty portions. That’s what customers want.
Early in its existence, CSPI shed light on hitherto unknown nutritional information about restaurant meals. But everything concerned customers want to know about the food they order at chain restaurants now is out in the open. Menu labeling is right around the corner, but chains already post detailed nutritional breakdowns of menu items on their websites. If customers have a concern, any of them who order one of the Xtreme Eating 2010 items cited below could have easily found a nutritional breakdown of it online before visiting any of the restaurants. Here’s who made CSPI’s list this year:
• Five Guys Burgers. The Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger (902 calories, 30 grams saturated fat), fries (620 calories) and large Coke (300 calories) make for a filling meal. Its calorie count hasn’t stopped this chain from rocketing from nowhere to 550 locations.
• The Cheesecake Factory. Its Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake weighs in at 1,650 calories and 48 grams of fat. Gee, do you think customers ever buy one and share it, or take the leftovers home? Also cited: Cheesecake Factory’s Pasta Carbonara which, when topped with chicken, totals 2,500 calories and 85 grams of fat. Again, Cheesecake Factory is famous for portion sizes that enable customers to enjoy a second meal later from the leftovers. It’s a big reason customers go there in the first place.
* California Pizza Kitchen also gets called out twice. Its Tostada Pizza (1,440 calories, 27 grams of fat) earns condemnation because it is “sneak-up-on-you heavy.” The Pesto Cream Penne, with 1,350 calories and 49 grams of fat is comparable, CSPI says, to Olive Garden’s Fettuccini Alfredo, the dish for which the phrase “heart attack on the plate” was first coined back in 1994.
• P.F. Chang’s receives CSPI’s venom for its Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo, which contains 1,820 calories and three teaspoons of salt. The dish’s fat content, however, is acceptable.
• Outback Steakhouse takes a hit for a New Zealand Rack of Lamb offering that, when served with a cabernet wine sauce, provides 1,300 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. Seem high? It’s the equivalent of eight lamb chops. With sides, the totals jump to 1,820 calories and 80 grams of fat.
• Chevy’s earns a scolding for its Crab & Shrimp Quesadilla, 1,790 calories and 73 grams of fat.
• Bob Evans makes the list for its Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes. This item provides 1,380 calories, 27 grams of fat and, CSPI says, 27 teaspoons of sugar.
That’s the 2010 Xtreme Eating 2010 list. Does it really alert restaurant customers to something they don’t intuitively know in the first place? We doubt it. Let’s hope that the onset of nutritional labeling on restaurant menus makes this edition of CSPI’s list the final one.