Restaurant Responsibility: How much information do you need?

Lately it seems more and more restaurants either list exact calorie counts on their menus, a select number of ingredients in a particular dish, or both.  While having exact caloric information is definitely beneficial, shouldn’t restaurants also be responsible for having EXACT ingredient information as well?  And by ingredient information I mean everything – from the type of flour used to any additional “extras” such as soybean oil, corn syrup and added sweeteners that could be used in event the most basic of dishes.  Wouldn’t you want to know if your dish had any potential allergens or preservatives that you are trying to avoid?

A few years back Cheesecake Factory started adding calorie counts to all of their dishes, and then slowly began listening out a variety of ingredients as well.  For anyone who has dined at the Cheesecake Factory, you’ll know that their food isn’t exactly light fare (nor do they claim to be) so the calorie counts make sense.  But by listing the ingredients as well, you got an idea of what exactly was going into your dish and why it was xx amount of calories.

As a food allergy sufferer, I found Cheesecake Factory’s menu very helpful since I’m constantly asking waiters in restaurants what is in a dish, how is it prepared, etc.  So when I dined at the Cheesecake Factory I was pleasantly surprised to see they had it all laid out for me.  I ordered a pasta dish that looked calorie and allergy friendly.  Or so I thought.

My dinner was put in front of me and lo and behold there was some chicken and tomatoes (no sauce) on a pile of green fettucine.  Now to most people it’s no big deal, oh it’s just spinach fettucine.  But unfortunately for me, spinach is one of the things I’m allergic to so I had to kindly ask the waiter to send the dish back and got just plain ol’ angel hair instead.  The restaurant felt so bad that they offered me my dish on the house but it got me thinking – why didn’t they indicate on the menu that it was spinach fettucine?  This brings me back to my earlier point:  shouldn’t we be privy to exactly everything that is in a dish?  I’ve had other circumstances where I’ve ordered a baked treat and sure enough walnuts (another no-no) come out on top of it as a “garnish.”  Couldn’t the restaurant have just said on the menu, contains tree nuts?  Or even better, contains walnuts?

I don’t want to just call the Cheesecake Factory out because they are definitely not the only restaurant to “omit” certain details from their ingredient lists.  But I firmly believe that if a restaurant is going to go through all the trouble of calling out the ingredients in a dish, they should go all the way so to speak.  People are becoming more and more conscious of what they eat and should be able to make an informed decision when it comes to choosing what to eat while dining out.  If choosing between a hamburger and a chicken wrap and you find out the tortilla in the wrap may have artificial preservatives in it, would you be more inclined to the hamburger since it has more natural ingredients?  Nothing frustrates me more than when a restaurant says they make everything in-house but when I ask what is in a hamburger bun they can’t tell me because it came on a truck in a package.  Our culture is so concerned with calorie counts but we also need to be concerned about what we are ingesting.  Was the meat humanely raised?  Are the vegetables local?  Is the glaze on a piece of fish made with corn syrup?  Perhaps people wouldn’t have as many food intolerances/allergies/sensitivities if they were able to make informed decisions when dining out.

They aren’t all bad however.  Haute Cakes Cafe in Costa Mesa has always been good about listing out their ingredients.  So has Mani’s Bakery in LA.  And True Food Kitchen’s menu has always been easy to decipher.

So what do you think?  Would you like to know everything that is in your dish at a restaurant all the way down to how it’s prepared or do you prefer the ignorance is bliss route?  How important is calorie counting and how important is it to eat real food that’s good for you?

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