So I was pleasantly surprised today to hear from Rich Jeffers, a company spokesperson. He called to address the two issues that tainted me on a restaurant concept I otherwise enjoy:
1. Seasons 52 has always kept its entrees at 475 calories and under, and now some come in at up to 890.
2. Every menu item is now listed with its calorie count. That detracts from my enjoyment.
Let's address No. 2 first. It seems Seasons 52 is off the hook from my dismay. As it turns out, by federal law Seasons 52 and all other restaurant chains with 20 units and up will have to list every item's calorie count by December 1, 2015. And they'll have to list those numbers prominently. Seasons 52 is merely being proactive, testing its new menu now. The substantiation seems to be somewhere in here; pardon me for having no strength to read thoroughly.
If you have opinions, Jeffers invites you to leave feedback on its Contact Us page. ("Food Politics" blogger Marion Nestle, of whom I'm a fan, supports the calorie labeling here and acknowledges the "lost pleasure" aspect of being faced with those numbers by linking to this Reuters article.)
As for No. 1:
Why is Seasons 52 testing more fattening items? Jeffers didn't flat-out say I was wrong when I told him my theory: Big eaters veto the restaurant because they leave hungry, whereas most of us leave comfortably full. "Some of it is for the folks who want Seasons 52 to have something for them," he concedes.
The savvy spokesperson did add arguments, of course.
--Only six menu items exceed 475 calories, some by as little as 25 calories.
--The whopping numbers next to the Meyer Lemonade cocktail (200), Roasted Roma Tomato flatbread (430), and ahi tuna tartare appetizer (470) haven't changed. We consumers merely used to consume these items in ignorant bliss.
Jeffers added two arguments that I don't so-much buy:
--"As the brand has evolved, so has guests' definition of good food and wellness. Calories alone are not how they define good meals today. Now they're focused on fresh, healthy foods made from quality ingredients, where those ingredients come from, and how they're prepared. None of those have changed at Seasons 52." True, and my marathon-running friends would be examples. Still, I think the chain is kissing up to the big eaters who'll veto the restaurant because they leave un-full.
--The test menu I received at the Sand Lake Road Seasons 52 in Orlando featured the winter menu. The spring and summer menus are likely to have lighter, and less caloric, menu items. Meh. I'd call that a publicist trying too hard.
Jeffers also mentions that the protein sizes haven't changed much. The calorie boosts come more from generous side dishes. Still, if my plate has a few extra roasted potatoes, I will eat those roasted potatoes. I'd rather not be tempted past 475 calories.
Here's where I exit: I applaud Seasons 52 for working out the calorie postings ahead of schedule, and for testing its tactics in only 10 restaurants. That's how to do things the right way.
But I really liked knowing that any dinner entree I ordered would come in at 475 calories or below. While I understand the need to embrace the veto-factor customer, just as seafood restaurants offer a steak dish and steak restaurants offer a fish dish, I am sorry to see Seasons 52 bastardize this core element of its concept.
Please share your opinions below. And, of course, with the company.