Restaurants show no appetite for calorie counts

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PAUL CULLEN in The Irish Times

REACTION:  HOTELS AND restaurants showed no appetite yesterday for proposals to force them to display the calorie content of the meals they serve.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland claimed such a move would cost the industry €110 million, or €5,000 per restaurant.

The measure would cripple the restaurant industry at a time when revenues were 20 per cent down on 2011, and one restaurant a day was closing, said Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the association.

“At a time when restaurants are trying to create new jobs as well as saving existing ones, extra costs don’t need to be placed on them,” he said.

“How does the Minister and his department suggest that we pay for this without having to absorb the cost? It’s not easy for any business to cough up €5,000 in the morning. The banks aren’t lending any money.”

Mr Cummins also questioned how the initiative would be monitored. “Any chef will tell you that menus in restaurants vary from day to day and therefore calorie counting would be highly inaccurate anyway,” he said.

The Irish Hotels Federation said it would oppose any attempt to introduce mandatory labelling of calories on menus in hotels and guesthouses.

Federation president Michael Vaughan warned that the adoption of an indiscriminate, “one size fits all” approach would be entirely inappropriate for his members, many of whose menus change on a daily basis.

“Our members are very concerned that today’s announcement could be the first step towards a mandatory system across the board without taking account of the challenges they face,” said Mr Vaughan.

“Such a system would be unworkable for many of our members, given the prohibitive costs involved in determining calorie content for menus that are constantly changing from day to day.”

The hotel and restaurants sectors pointed out that public support for the proposal in “fine dining” restaurants is just 18 per cent.

However, Minister for Health James Reilly said there would be no exemptions for top-end restaurants. “Surely they want their customers who are paying top dollar to be able to make an informed choice,” he said.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland said the display of calorie content on alcohol taps in licensed premises would be a decision for individual retailers.