March 1, 2008

Shame On You: Olive Garden, TGI Friday's, Applebee's, Outback Steakhouse, and New York City Wendy's

Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky.

Many chain restaurants -- who have standardized recipes that call for an exact amount of certain ingredients every single time the dish is served -- offer nutrition information on their websites.

No matter how heinous their offerings -- think 10 grams of trans fat in a serving of large fries, in some cases -- the information is available to potential customers.

Olive Garden, TGI Friday's, Applebee's, Outback Steakhouse, and New York City Wendy's restaurants aren't as forthcoming.

In Olive Garden's case, they only list nutrition information for their "Garden Fare" low-fat and low-carb items.

Even that information is scarce, consisting solely of calories, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates.

There is no mention of sodium or saturated fat.

And make sure to read the tiny print at the bottom of the page:

"Olive Garden has made an effort to provide complete and current nutrition information, but changes in recipes and the hand-crafted nature of our menu items mean that variations from these values can occur from time to time. Therefore, the values shown here should be considered approximations."

Nutrition information for their remaining menu items? Nonexistent.

The only nutrition mention TGI Friday's makes on their website
is via a 2007 press release announcing the availability of smaller portions of select menu items, all of which offer less than 500 calories and 10 grams of fat.

Want to know how many calories are in their standard fried mac and cheese appetizer? Start sharpening your psychic skills, because TGI Friday's sure isn't going to tell you.

Over at Applebee's, nutrition information is only available for Weight Watchers approved items.

The others?

"We do not provide nutritional information on other Applebee's® items - with approximately 1,900 locations in the U.S. alone there are many different vendors, which makes it extremely difficult to obtain nutritional information for our items."

I'm supposed to believe they can't tell me how many calories their three cheese chicken penne pasta bowl ("mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan cheeses top off a rich mix of penne pasta, Italian-seasoned grilled chicken, diced tomatoes, fresh basil and Alfredo sauce") provides?

Ironic, isn't it, how the main draw of all these restaurants is that no matter where in the country you go, their dishes are prepared identically, yet apparently when it comes to nutrition, each Applebee's is so unique that something as standard as caloric information varies from store to store?

Why doesn't this excuse apply to their Weight Watchers items?

I guess it wouldn't make them sound very trustworthy if they claimed, "Some items are Weight-Watchers friendly only in certain undisclosed cities."

Outback Steakhouse, meanwhile, beats around the bush.

Rather than tell consumers how many calories their Barbeque Chicken and Bacon Sandwich offers, they provide tips on making it healthier and "diet friendly":

"Order prepared without butter or BBQ sauce,order without the bacon and cheese, request with bun if your program allows, substitute baked potato, steamed vegetables, or steamed green beans."

The question remains -- how many calories do you get with the healthy substitutions? How many without?

Outback "answers" this question by tooting its own horn:

"We take pride in our "No Rules" approach to accommodating our customer's specific dietary needs."

In other words, "if we didn't give you people so much freedom when ordering, we would be able to provide nutrition information. Oh well!"

Then there's Wendy's. Well, at least the Wendy's in New York City.

Per the fast food chain's website:

"We regret that Wendy's cannot provide product calorie information to residents or customers in New York City. The New York City Department of Health passed a regulation requiring restaurants that already provide calorie information to post product calories on their menu boards -- using the same type size as the product listing.

We fully support the intent of this regulation; however, since most of our food is made-to-order, there isn't enough room on our existing menu boards to comply with the regulation.

To continue to provide caloric information to residents and customers of our New York City restaurants on our website and on our nutritional posters would subject us to this regulation. As a result, we will no longer provide caloric information to residents and customers of our New York City restaurants.

So because someone can ask for a burger without ketchup or extra bacon Wendy's can no longer offer nutrition information?

Odd -- that doesn't stop them from posting nutrition information on their website, or in their other restaurants across the country, where consumers have jus as much flexibility in ordering.

And how come they were able to provide caloric information in their New York City stores before the Department of Health ruling, despite custom ordering?

I also ask -- what about items like fries, sodas, frosties, and chicken nuggets, which are not made to order? They can't even offer that information in their New York City restaurants?

Mind you, Wendy's prides themselves in their "unrivaled [passion] for giving people what they want — and uncompromising in giving people what they deserve."

We all deserve to know what is in the food we're eating!

Many of these chains rely on the standard argument that listing nutritional information is useless because consumers don't go to their restaurants for nutrition.

Alright then, if that's the case, why not reveal the numbers? If it's not losing potential consumers that scares you, what's stopping you?


Kevin said...

Well said. I'd stop eating at Wendy's simply because I'd be afraid of what they're hiding.

Sly said...

So eat at home where you can control what goes in the food.

If you eat out, indulge.

Live life! Don't make enjoying a meal out a science.

firefly said...

Yes, shame on those restaurants! I've been long harboring this grudge about missing nutritional info from these particular chain restaurants. Wow, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with this complaint.

And shame on Sly for his glib and thoughtless comment. If you were to "live life!" everyday, you end up just plain fat and unhealthy. I am offended that you suggest I eat at home alone every night because I care about my diet. My schedule is crazy hectic, I usually don't have time to cook, and the only time I get to see family or friends is eating out, which is most nights of the week. I have a right to know the calories and fat content of the menu items, so I can choose what to order and how much of it to eat. Sometimes all it takes is dividing the portion size and saving some for a to-go box.

What good is enjoying a meal tonight when you literally pay a heavy price for the gorging tomorrow? A little science brings me joy tonight without guilt tomorrow. Knowledge is power.

No wonder obesity is an epidemic and people fail so miserably at losing/maintaining their weight... There's no help from anywhere.

Anonymous said...

"the main draw of all these restaurants is that no matter where in the country you go, their dishes are prepared identically". Not really. Most of these places, unless they grill you a steak, it's all shipped in pre-packaged, frozen ... and they still can't offer nutrition info for it?

Corey said...

Actually olive garden has information on their website now.