Eating At A Chain Restaurant? Know Before You Go

December 22, 2011   15 Comments

In the future, all chain restaurant menus will have calorie amounts for their food listed next to the menu item. Until that happens, life is a bit rough for us healthy eaters.

Chain Restaurant Menu Calorie Amounts

Kristin wrote me about her dilemma:

My question is way out of the snack realm, but figured i'd ask anyway! I'm looking for some direction in regard to chain restaurants nutritional info i.e.: Olive Garden, Red Robin-you get the idea.

I try to Google ahead of time before I go out the meal that i'll get, but every site (including restaurant) has different info. Do you have any advice?

Well, Kristin, whenever I go to these restaurants I wonder about the food that I am eating. At the Chili's in my town, I asked for a list of the menu items with calorie amounts and they gave it to me!

It did influence my choices quite a bit when I saw (for example) a chocolate lava cake dessert for 1,200 calories. I decided to just stick with a coffee.

So, my first piece of advice is to get your hands on this information from the chain restaurant website and take it with you! Yes, it can be hard to find (and there is conflicting info.) - but I would trust the chain if they post it on their website.

If you are lucky enough to own a smart phone - you can just look it up in the restaurant.

Another great source of advice on chain restaurants is the series of books called "Eat This: Not That" by David Zinczenko. This guy has put out a bunch of these and they are an extremely powerful tool for helping you to make better choices.

An example from "Eat This, Not That: 2012":

Eat This!: Romano's Macaroni Grill Pollo Caprese (550 calories, 20 g fat, 1,660 mg sodium)


Not That!: Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana (1,090 calories, 49 g fat, 3,380 mg sodum)

This comparison will save you 540 calories! I have studied these books and now I can just look at a menu and know what kinda trouble I could be getting into.

For example, the Chicken Parmigiana has CHEESE and the Pollo Caprese is GRILLED. You just know that the cheese one is going to kill you.

Chain restaurant food doesn't vary all that much so if you can just teach yourself about the calories in an eight ounce burger, small pizza, buffalo chicken wings, etc. - you are going to be empowered to make healthier choices.

My advice is to:

  • Bring the calorie information or ask the restaurant for it (if we all do it - they will start to provide it).
  • Read "Eat This: Not That" (your library will have these books).
  • Get educated about your favorite foods so you have a ballpark estimate of calorie content in your head.

Please share your chain restaurant tips with Kristin.

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Sometimes it's not so obvious where the nutritional information on a restaurant web site is. When I run into this, I use google like so:

In Google's search field type " " or whatever the web site name is, and then type your search term, like "nutrition", "calories", or even ".pdf", because I've found some have their nutrition info in PDF format.

I'll also use web sites like My Fitness Pal to look up restaurant food.

@Mike - Yes, I do that as well - I will type "McDonald's Nutrition" and the link to the PDF will be in the first couple of search results. It can be very tricky. Thanks so much for this tip!

Glad to share! Thanks for another great post!

Another thing to be aware of is that the food at almost all chain restaurants is frozen, shipped to the restaurant, then reheated to be served. To keep the flavor, restaurants add monosodium glutamate (MSG) to the food. MSG is a very unhealthy additive and is especially toxic to children and the elderly. has some good eating out restaraunt info

I use the book Calorie King (…)

in the back of the book it gives you a lot of the fast food places in alphabetical order! which i love!

I agree look them up before you go, on the restuarts website. I love the eat this not that books, and also fing great info on

hope this helps

I like to use a website called Dotti's Weight Loss Zone. It's a wonderful site with lots of great info for those of us on Weight Watchers. She has calculated the points values (and pointsplus) for every restaurant you can think of, and I've checked time and time again and her numbers are always spot on. You can just scroll through her list of restaurants and find the nutritional info AND pointsplus values! It's awesome and FREE! Here's a link:

Below is the site I use to reference before visiting a restaurant. She lists a ton of venues, and has WW point traditional, as well as points plus values. Very helpful. The whole site is excellent, but I've returned again and again to fight impulsive dining decisions!…

It is a nice idea to look up the calories before indulging in those food. I've never thought about that and would always feel guilty after visiting these places.

I want to make use of a internet site known as Dotti's Weight Reduction Zone. It's a wonderful website with lots of fantastic info for those of us about Weight Watchers. thank post.

I used to work at Olive Garden... They have en entire menu with all the nutritional info on it- you just have to ask. Obviously they don't hand them out to everyone!

I have an app on my iPod that you can also use on the computer. It is You can look up meals for resturants. You can also add recipes and it will figure the nutrional information for you (I haven't tried this yet). I have found it has changed how/what I eat.

Hi! Just have found one more calorie count site with huge list of restaurant menus nutrition info

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