Better data leads to better decision-making — except when it comes to dessert.
When sit-down restaurants listed their menu calories, consumers cut their consumption in appetizers and entrees. That said, they left their sweets order unchanged, based on a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. It’s our lead item in this week’s economic research roundup, which also looks at a blog post on the global distribution of gender pay gaps, a paper on whether macroprudential policy could have prevented the 2007-2009 financial crisis, and an analysis on the return of political business cycles in the U.S.
Hold the Queso
The Impact of Information Disclosure on Consumer Behavior: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment of Calorie Labels on Restaurant MenusPublished August 2018Available on the NBER website
Calorie counts printed on restaurant menus prompt diners to consume less. Cornell University’s John Cawley and his co-authors collected detailed data from two restaurants, taking down numbers on everything from individual food orders to whether patrons shared a plate over the course of thousands of visits. They found that printed calorie information reduced calories ordered by 3 percent (or 45 calories a meal, roughly equivalent to a large plum or an Oreo cookie). That decrease came from entrees and appetizers, not from drinks or desserts.
Considering how often Americans generally eat at restaurants, that calorie reduction would lead to a one-pound weight loss over the course of three years, the researchers estimate. That figure might be conservative: the study can only observe ordering, not consumption, and diners might eat less of what they order when they know its calorie content.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
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