In line with new government legislation, Rockfish has brought calorie counts to its nine sites along the South West coast of England. We speak with owner Mitch Tonks about the process and the impact he feels it will have on consumer behaviour
How did you feel initially about the prospect of calorie counting your entire menu?
Luckily for us, it was a simpler job than we had anticipated and we’re intrigued to see how it guides people’s choices and to learn how many people are counting their calories when eating out. For some people, eating out is a regular occurrence and for others, a weekly or monthly treat so it will be really interesting to see what effect it has on Rockfish customers and the way they order. I think they’ll all be pleasantly surprised by how healthy the majority of our menu is.
What information have you had to display and how are you displaying it?
We are displaying the calorific content of each dish as a whole next to the description on the menu highlighted in colour so it’s easy to spot in kcal. Our menu is simple and you choose a piece of fish and how you would like it cooked, served with chips or salad on the side. Depending on what you choose it’s very easy to eat healthily at Rockfish, for example choosing a Dover sole (230kcal) and house salad (135 kcal) is only 355 calories. Chips are 420kcal so ordering Dover sole and chips is still a great choice at 650kcals which is perfectly acceptable for a main meal calorie content.
Specials on the menu for less than 30 days are exempt, has that helped?
Yes, that has as we offer a large range of different species of fish depending on what’s landed off the boats that day so you can choose a dish from our regular main menu which is available every day (and kcal amounts are provided) and in addition to this you get a choice from the daily landings at Brixham quayside. Your server marks down the availability on your tablecloth and talks through the fresh sustainable seafood that’s landed that day and how we can cook it for you, for example, Dover sole, monkfish, lobster, brill, John Dory, sea bass and lots more. As this fish is subject to daily change we can’t provide the calorie content of the daily landings but we have a rough idea and most seafood is super healthy and low in calories. Some of the oily fish like tinned sardines, for example, are higher in calories but they’re omega-3 oils and marinated in olive oil so are healthier, good fats.
How have you gone about analysing the calorie content and what has it involved?
It was straightforward for us and not as complicated as you would think as our menu and cooking methods are so traditional and our ingredients are fresh and very simple – fresh grilled or fried fish with chips and salad. There were 40 items for our current menu that we had to nutritionally analyse and fortunately we were able to do this in-house thanks to our health and safety team at Rockfish.
Have you learnt anything from this process and have you changed anything as a result?
There were actually no surprises for us. We know our ingredients and their provenance and the way we cook is uncomplicated. We have always exercised portion control and traditional methods. It was all straightforward which was wonderful. Traditional fish and chips is the highest calorie dish on the menu but I don’t think there are any surprises there!
How will you manage this going forward in terms of ensuring the information is up-to-date?
It’s already all part of the processes we already have in place for our seasonal menu changes in spring and winter which we undertake for our allergens menu so again, it’s all plain sailing.
Do you think it is a positive move and would you like to see it extended to all of hospitality?
Yes from a health perspective absolutely, it’s very important to be educated on what we eat and for restaurants to be transparent on calorie content. If you’re on a calorie-controlled diet this information is so valuable as you can eat out very healthily and still enjoy wholesome, fresh delicious dishes that are filling yet still low in calories. On the flip side of that for many people, eating out might be their weekly treat and it’s sometimes a pleasure to let go a bit and not spend the evening analysing the science behind the menu, so each to their own. Everything in moderation!