I popped into Panera the other day for breakfast with my daughter. I already had an idea of what I wanted to order, so I scanned the menu board for a match as I waited in line. There it is! I said to myself when I found it, and I relished the thought of my breakfast treat. Upon closer examination, I noticed a number next to each menu item, so I looked at the top of the board for an explanation. It all came clear like a thunderclap: these were calorie counts!
I can’t eat something with that many calories! I thought. Especially when it is a single item–not a whole meal! Heartbroken, I scanned the board for an alternative, but there weren’t many better options. After a complete reassessment–including revamping my eating plan for the day and just a wee bit of rationalization–I ended up sticking with my original choice. Somehow, though, it just didn’t taste as good as I thought it would.
Actually, I applaud Panera for going big with its nutrition information. Most restaurants make it available in the small print, on their websites, or on the packaging that customers can read when their food is already in hand. Some have brochures quietly tucked away in case someone asks, but few (if any?) post it right next to each item. Panera introduced this practice in 2010; I’m obviously just a bit late in noticing.
What surprises me about this effort isn’t so much that restaurants are starting to do it. Instead, it’s my reaction. In general, I want to know more, more, more. Knowledge is power, right? I also like to be fairly informed about what I eat, both as a foodie and a reasonably health-conscious consumer. I may not always make the best choices, but I do want them to be choices, not accidents of ignorance.
That’s why I’m surprised at myself: when I first saw the calorie counts, I found myself wishing I hadn’t. I just didn’t want to know. I wanted to eat my eggy breakfast sandwich in peaceful oblivion, focused only on making my tummy happy. As long as I didn’t know the facts, it was A-OK, or at least A-OKish. My newly enlightened self, however, was forced to choose between responsible eating or willful decadence. I didn’t like that choice.
Besides the self-examination evoked by this experience, I’ve been mulling it over for weeks looking for the marketing lesson. I think I’ve finally found it. People want to feel good about the choices they make. It’s as simple as that. They either want to make good choices, or they want to justify the bad ones to make sure they’re really, really worth it.
Maybe that’s why I struggled so much with my egg sandwich. I should have opted either for the fruit cup and half a plain bagel, or I should have high-tailed it to my favorite greasy spoon and gone all out.
Assuming I’m mostly normal, it’s an interesting insight into human nature. I’m still chewing on that breakfast. So to speak.