a hospitality manager, you have a right to advertise your
food and beverage products in a way that casts them in their
best light. If your hamburgers contain 8 ounces of ground
beef, you are free to promote that attribute in your advertising,
your menu, and as part of your server’s verbal descriptions.
You are not free, however, to misrepresent your products.
To do so is a violation of what has come to be commonly known
as Truth in Menu laws. These laws, which could perhaps better
be described as “accuracy in menus,” are designed to protect
consumers from fraudulent food and beverage claims. Many foodservice
operators believe that Truth in Menu laws are a recent occurrence.
They are not. In fact, the federal government, as well as
many local communities, have a long history of regulating
food advertisement and sales.
The various Truth in Menu laws currently in effect are overseen
by dozens of agencies and administrative entities, thereby
taking the labeling of food to much greater degrees of accuracy.
Though these laws are constantly being revised, it is possible
for a foodservice operator to stay up to date and in compliance
with them. The method is relatively straightforward, and the
key is honesty in menu claims, both in regard to the price
that is charged and the food that is served.
Certainly, menus should accurately reflect the price to be
charged to the customer. If one dozen oysters are to be sold
for a given price, one dozen oysters should be delivered on
the plate, and the price charged on the bill should match
that on the menu. Likewise, if the menu price is to include
a mandatory service charge or cover charge, these must be
brought to the attention of the guest. If a restaurant advertises
a prix fixe dinner with four courses and a choice of entrees,
the guest should be told the price of the dinner, which courses
are included, and the types of entrees they may choose from.
Accuracy in menu involves a great deal more than honestly
and precisely stating a price. It also entails being careful
when describing many food attributes, including the preparation
style, ingredients, origin, portion sizes, and health benefits.
Because this area is so complex, and because consumers increasingly
demand more accurate information from restaurants, the National
Restaurant Association (NRA) and many state associations have
produced educational material designed to assist foodservice
operators as they write and prepare menus. Called “A Practical
Guide to the Nutrition Labeling Laws,” this publication is
written specifically for the restaurant industry; it outlines
everything you need to know about nutrition claims you can
make for your menu items. You can secure a copy for a modest
charge from the NRA.
A warning regarding any potentially harmful items that are
included on your menu (e.g. oysters, sulfates, etc.) is also
helpful. For a sample menu caution statement, log on to www.HospitalityLawyer.com
and click on Forms/Checklists/Procedures in the left-hand
A good motto to help you stay out of trouble is: If you say
it, serve it!
Stephen Barth is an attorney and associate professor of law
and leadership at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel &
Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. For more
information visit www.HospitalityLawyer.com.
Stephen can be contacted at (713) 963-8800 or via email at