The bartender at the Cheesecake Factory inside White Flint Mall knows exactly where to draw the line between being customer-friendly and betraying her employer. She chokes off the information stream as soon as I ask one too many questions about the restaurant’s Flying Gorilla cocktail, this liquid libation described on the menu as a “ ‘Kicked-Up’ Chocolate Banana Milkshake.”
When I first inquire about the Gorilla, she tells me I won’t even taste the small shots of banana liqueur and creme de cacao in the drink. She’s so giddy about the creamy cocktail, she almost makes me excited to be sucking down an alcoholic shake at an Egyptian-theme chain restaurant inside a Rockville mall just steps from a nearly depleted Borders outlet where practically everything’s for sale short of the employees’ personal footwear. I try to mirror the bartender’s enthusiasm and ask about the other ingredients in the Flying Gorilla.
(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)
“I’d get fired if I told you that,” she says, impressive in her facility to blow me off with such good humor. A few days later, I called the Cheesecake Factory’s press people, who were equally cheerful as they turned down my request for the recipe.
The information is important for one simple reason: America’s fat.
You’ve heard the statistics by now and, more immediately, have probably felt that extra jiggle around your waistline. The Obama administration has fired off a number of weapons to combat the, ahem, massive problem, from the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to the new
veg-friendly Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but its latest offensive push came on April 1, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published proposed regulations for nationwide menu labeling. As written, the regulations require all “chain restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machines with 20 or more locations” to list caloric information on their menus and menu boards. Two categories were conspicuously exempted from the requirement: movie theater chains and alcoholic beverages.
This is where chains such as the Cheesecake Factory, Applebee’s, Chili’s and others come in. They serve alcohol of every stripe. Many have specialty cocktails, too, such as the Flying Gorilla or Applebee’s Mud Slide or the Chili’s line of designer margaritas. None of the chains may ever be required to list the drinks’ caloric information on their menus (except, of course, in those jurisdictions such as New York City where local labeling laws already require such information).
“The problem is that alcohol is a big source of calories in the American diet,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
How big is a matter of personal drinking habits. In her forthcoming book, “Calories: From Science to Politics” (co-written with Malden Nesheim; University of California Press, 2012), nutrition expert Marion Nestle will publish a complex formula on how to determine the caloric content of the alcohol in your drink when all you know is the alcohol-by-volume information. It practically takes an advanced degree in mathematics to figure it out.