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Truth in Menu:
If you say it serve it
gourmet articlestruth in menu: if you say it serve it

As 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 and click on Forms/Checklists/Procedures in the left-hand toolbar.

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 Stephen can be contacted at (713) 963-8800 or via email at [email protected].

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