Calorie Count Evasion: For a Limited Only,
the Really Good Stuff

Thanks to a quirk of the new health care law, eaters may soon have to dash to chain restaurants to claim the unhealthiest foods on their menus.

Starting next year, chains with 20 or more outlets will be required to add calorie counts to their menus and drive-through signs. Not surprisingly, the law's not popular with big restaurants, which have valiantly been seeking ways to squirm out of it. It's widely believed Houston's spun off its Hillstone brand this year to evade the rule, although Hillstone Restaurant Group says bringing the Houston's tally below the 20-outlet mark wasn't their primary motivation.

But there is a loophole that industry experts say restaurants are likely to exploit with abandon: Limited-time offerings (knows as "LTOs" in the biz) are exempt from the law. That means restaurants don't have to announce a food item's calorie count so long as it's only on the menu for three months or less.

With more than 40 percent of restaurant-goers reporting they'd reconsider their order if they knew how many calories were in it, market research firm Mintel predicts LTOs will emerge as a major trend in 2011.

So look for more specials such as the pie Pizza Patron rolled out this month: The Chicken Bacon Classico, topped with Alfredo sauce, bacon, chicken and cheese, will only be available until January 31.

Spokeswoman Sandy Bell said she didn't know whether the pizza was developed in anticipation of calorie count mandates, or whether the chain has plans to speed jab with more fat-laden LTOs next year.

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