Calorie Counts Could Provide A Better Guest Experience

As I approached Wilmington, Vermont this holiday weekend, I thought of Applebee’s.  I wasn’t hungry, and there isn’t an Applebee’s anywhere near the Southern Vermont metropolis of 2,400. You see, traffic from the ever-bulging Route 100 and Route 9 have become a veritable tourniquet in this small town, which used to be a good place to go and walk around. Now, when I approach Wilmington, I and an increasing number of drivers dive off on a dirt road South of town and emerge several miles North of Wilmington to avoid the mess.

The ripple effect is that many of my group of friends and family no longer even consider downtown Wilmington for restaurants, shopping, or other commerce even when we are pretty sure traffic will not be bad.  Why take the chance on the unknown traffic conditions, when the alternative is predictable?  The old saying, “No one goes there.  It is too busy,” has an unfortunate ring of reality.

Back to Applebee’s. I happened to have a late lunch with my family at an Applebee’s in New York a few days before Christmas, and I was surprised to see that each menu item listed its calorie count.  Anyone who follows the restaurant industry knows that listing calories on menus is at the epicenter of a battle that will undoubtedly involve legislation, impact free-enterprise, and ultimately hurt restaurateurs, who supply badly needed jobs.

First of all, I was shocked at how many calories there are in salads!  (It’s the dressing, I have been told.)  I was also surprised that many innocent-sounding lunch classics top 800 calories and a few were even over 1,000.  Remember, this was lunch, and I did not want to blow a whole day’s allowance of calories at 2:00 PM.

Anyway, after researching the menu in earnest, I was pleasantly surprised to find a steak sandwich on the lower end of the calorie curve.  When I skipped most (alright, some) of the fries and ate only part of the bread, I left Applebee’s feeling that both my kids and I had a good meal at a good price, and I was thankful I was able to make an informed decision as both a consumer and a parent. Forget economics, legislation, lobbyists and nutrition.  The fact that Applebee’s listed the calories of their items dramatically improved the guest experience.

Fast forward to this last weekend, when I looked at the menus of a few other casual restaurants in a mall in New Jersey and none listed the calorie counts of their items.

There I was, at the door of a different national restaurant chain, menu in hand, ready to sit down for another late lunch.  And although I was over 300 miles from Wilmington, Vermont, I opted for the ‘dirt road just south of town’ and went elsewhere to make an informed choice about what my family would be consuming that day.

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