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The Last Resort, a restaurant located on Clayton Street in downtown Athens, sent a team of chefs to the third School Lunch Program in 2017. The team won the challenge, which resulted in their dish being included in the menu for the Clarke County School District cafeterias. (Photo/McGee Nall, www.mcgeenall.com)

Americans eat one-third of their calories away from home, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA implemented a new requirement for restaurants, vending machines and other eateries a year ago, in spring 2018, requiring restaurants to label the number of calories in food and drinks on menus and vending machines.

Yet even though Taziki’s offers a number of healthier and low-calorie options on its menu than many fast food chains in the area, Richardson doesn’t believe it’s improved the business.

“It’s all about choice,” Richardson said. “I believe that the consumer who was going to McDonald’s will still go to McDonald’s.”

The FDA supplied the reasoning it was helping American consumers “make informed and healthful decisions about meals and snacks” on its website. Restaurants and vending machines owned by the same operator with 20 or more locations are mandated to participate in this program.


“Its all about choice,” Richardson said. “I believe that the consumer who was going to McDonald’s will still go to McDonald’s.”

— Whit Richardson 


In Athens, many restaurants popular among students at the University of Georgia such as Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, Zoës Kitchen, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Zaxby’s, Chick-fil-A and Chipotle are required to display the caloric content of their entrees, drinks and sides, a favorable practice among some in the food community and unpopular with others.

Whit Richardson, the franchisee of Taziki’s in Athens strongly supports this concept of transparency with calorie counts and believes it to be an important part of the dining process.

“It is a great idea to me,” Richardson said. “The consumer wants to be informed so we included calories on our menus before this law even went into effect. We believe that there needs to be more healthy options in the food marketplace and we want to provide them.”

Richardson has even noticed since displaying the calorie content of Taziki’s food on the menu, some customers have decided to make different choices to benefit their health. Customers avoid some of the high-calorie options on the menu, Richardson said.

“Especially with higher-calorie items like our signature pasta, I see people on a weekly basis who say, ‘I really want to get the pasta but I’m going to watch my calories and get the chicken feast today,’” Richardson said.

At the end of the day, Richardson believes providing the nutrition information won’t miraculously make people healthier. Instead, it’ll give customers the knowledge to make good decisions with the options available.

“The consumer wants as much information as possible to make their choice,” Richardson said.“With the information we give them, people can order what they want [at Taziki’s] so that they can have the best of both worlds — good food and lower-calorie alternatives.”

Even though Taziki’s offers a number of healthier and low-calorie options on its menu than many fast food chains in the area, Richardson doesn’t believe it’s improved the business.

“It’s all about choice,” Richardson said. “I believe that the consumer who was going to McDonald’s will still go to McDonald’s.”

Robin Staub-Grunstein, a registered dietician at Healthy Habits Nutrition Consulting in Athens, agrees with Richardson.

“The people who need it the most don’t really care,” Staub-Grunstein said.

Richardson said Taziki’s on Prince Avenue, which offers a variety of gluten-free, vegan and fresh options, places a strong emphasis on nutrition and providing its customers with food that doesn’t include preservatives and includes fresh ingredients.

However, Richardson said the nutrients necessary for a well-rounded diet can often be missed by customers who only view the calories displayed. He believes the consumer shouldn’t focus solely on calories but should emphasize a well-balanced diet instead.

Melissa Clegg, the owner of Last Resort and LRG Provisions, said her restaurants emphasize fresh and locally-sourced ingredients rather than the number of calories. By avoiding the use of preservatives or unnatural ingredients and sourcing locally and sustainably when possible, Clegg said Last Resort and LRG’s menus are transparent enough without having to include the number of calories in the dishes.

“I’m not a big supporter of calorie counting,” Clegg said. “I’m more of a supporter of healthy eating overall and understanding the food that you put into your body.”

In addition to ignoring a food’s nutritional makeup, Staub-Grunstein also believes displaying the calorie content can be helpful for people who are trying to lose weight but can also encourage unhealthy habits in others.

“I work with a lot of eating disorder patients that are obsessive with the numbers [of calories displayed] and would really do better and challenge themselves more if the numbers were not on the menu,” Staub-Grunstein said. “It sets them back.”

Staub-Grunstein said instead of labeling the calories on the menu, restaurants providing a nutritional brochure, customers can look at voluntarily would be a beneficial alternative. This would allow customers to view all of the nutrients in a given dish including sodium, protein and fat.

“People just want a connection to their food,” Richardson said. “It’s a testament to the community of Athens and the desire to live a healthy lifestyle.”

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