California was the first state to adopt menu-labeling laws. SB 1420, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2008, affects restaurant chains with 20 or more locations.
It has a two-part rollout: In July 2009, restaurants had to provide brochures with calorie content or nutritional information, such as grams of fat and carbohydrates and milligrams of salt.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, the second part of the law will take effect: Those same restaurants must now post nutritional information on menus or menu boards. There's no penalty for jumping the gun — and some chains, such as AMC Theatres and IHOP, are already posting information in this fashion.
New York City pioneered this type of legislation: Since July 2008, all restaurant chains with 15 or more locations have been required to post calories on menus or menu boards. Similar measures have since been adopted in other areas, such as Philadelphia, all of Oregon and King County, Wash., with some variations in details of the laws. Legislation has been introduced in more than a dozen other states or regions.
If a national healthcare reform bill passes, restaurants with 20 or more locations would likely be required to post nutrition information, along with guidelines on how to interpret the information in the context of an average daily diet.
Those who back this move, such as the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest and the National Restaurant Assn., the industry's leading trade group, think that even if a national healthcare bill doesn't pass, federal legislation on menu labeling eventually will.