Ordering a meal and a bottle of wine will never be the same again. In an extension of a public health campaign into the eating out world, a restaurant has become the first to display calorie counts for all its dishes and drinks.
The Real Greek chain said it was confident putting calorific values on its menu alongside starters, mains, desserts, wine, beer and juices would be popular with diners wishing to monitor their energy intake.
Fast food chains KFC and Burger King already display boards at some outlets showing the calorie count of burgers and fried chicken, in a concession to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), but The Real Greek's move is the most extensive labelling yet of calories at an eating establishment.
Under an agreement with the FSA last year, the chain listed calorie counts for its food but this week it extended the move to alcohol and soft drinks. Customers visiting the chain's six restaurants in central London can check the calories on 43 dishes, 26 wines, four beers and ciders, four fruit juices and five fizzy drinks.
They show that what you order can make a big difference to your waistline. Some meat dishes are less calorific than vegetable-based ones: a lamb skewer, for instance, has 255 calories while a Greek salad weighs in at 676, probably on account of its feta cheese.
Similar variations apply to drinks. A couple drinking a bottle of a dry red Cretan wine, Ymnos, would clock up 669 calories, but if they went for a heavier Mavrodaphne dessert wine, the tally would hit 859 calories – between them, one fifth of their recommended daily allowance of 2,500 calories for a man and 2,000 for a woman. By contrast, a half-pint of Pilsner Urquell beer has 119 calories, an orange juice 138 and a Coca-Cola 139.
The FSA is urging food businesses to display calories because people are eating more meals outside the home. Calling for the move last year, chief executive Tim Smith said: "I don't see any compelling reason why we shouldn't provide that information. If consumers want to ignore it they could, but we would be giving them a real choice." FSA research suggests 30 per cent of food spending now goes on workplace lunches, sandwiches and takeaways.
The Real Greek believes listing its calories will be a commercial advantage, claiming Greek food is "naturally nutritious", using olive oil rather than saturated animal fat, and grilled fish and meat rather than "stodgy carbohydrates". Liz Williams, its managing director, said: "If you want to take a more balanced approach when you eat out, your choice is going to be better informed when the calories are clearly listed." She added the positive response had encouraged it to extend the scheme and that people had been choosing lower calorie dishes.
Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said the scheme was "a simple way to allow consumers to make more informed choices about what they eat when dining out – and still enjoy it".