For the second year in a row, David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, bestselling authors of Eat This, Not That!, have called out several restaurant industry leaders with the release of their “20 Worst Foods in America” list. Seven items that appeared on last year's list have since been excised from menus, including Chili's 2,710-calorie Awesome Blossom. Others have reported a decreased calorie count, suggesting a change in portion size.
“Do I think that we had an influence on the removal or the altering of some of those dishes? Absolutely,” says Goulding, recalling an admission from Jamba Juice that it removed its Chocolate Moo’d Power Smoothie after customers complained about its inclusion on the 2008 list. “Can we claim victory in every case? No.”
Despite the Chili's menu change, Brinker International, parent company of Chili's, Romano's Macaroni Grill, Maggiano's Little Italy, and On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina, was the leading offender for the second year in a row. Chili's menu items were cited in two categories this year, while Romano's Macaroni Grill dishes were listed in three—more than any other single restaurant.
Other chains on the list include T.G.I. Friday's, Uno Chicago Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Quiznos, and Hardee's, among others. Baskin-Robbins, however, landed the title of worst food of 2009. Its large Chocolate Oreo Shake clocks in at 2,600 calories and 135 grams of fat—“more than a day's worth of calories and three days worth of saturated fat,” according to the list.
The dramatic comparison is typical of Eat This, Not That!'s style. Chili’s Smokehouse Bacon Triple-The-Cheese Big Mouth Burger with Jalapeño Ranch Dressing, which makes the list for being the “Worst Burger of 2009,” is compared to the dietary setback of about eight 6-ounce steaks. Meanwhile, Macaroni Grill Dessert Ravioli, dubbed the “Worst Dessert of 2009,” is cited as the caloric equivalent of having four Quarter Pounders in addition to the main course.
In a move unrelated to the release of the 2009 list, Baskin-Robbins removed its Chocolate Oreo Shake from the menu. It was a seasonal item featured only in summer 2008, says Scott Colwell, Baskin-Robbins Worldwide Brand Marketing Officer.
“Baskin-Robbins offers a variety of frozen treat options which are all part of a balanced lifestyle,” he says in a prepared statement. “Prior to the Eat This, Not That! announcement, Baskin-Robbins had already committed to phasing out the premium shakes line from its menu, beginning this summer.”
But Zinczenko and Goulding will continue to publicly flog unhealthy menu items—and to compliment healthy ones.
“People don't fully understand how much they're taking in when they're eating out,” Goulding says. “It's important for people to be informed. ... The bottom line isn't that eating out is bad. It's that making one decision over another on a restaurant menu can be incredibly impactful.”
Goulding says one of the book's main points is that consumers can make nutritious decisions at any restaurant so long as they are informed.
“We're not trying to take down individual restaurants,” he says.
Both on the list and in the books, Zinczenko and Goulding suggest a healthier alternative from each restaurant. The book also includes a list of the best and worst restaurants in terms of nutritious menu offerings. Brinker International performed poorly in this category, as well, with Chili's receiving a C overall and Macaroni Grill being the only restaurant to receive an F. Maggiano's, while not officially graded, was one of several restaurants to be chastised because of its failure to disclose nutritional information.
“One of the major goals within the restaurant side of what we do is nutritional transparency,” Goulding says. “We will continue to harp on those restaurants who don't provide it until they do.”
The Eat This, Not That! brand, which touts itself as a no-diet weight-loss solution, has evolved from a book to a cultural phenomenon. In addition to new editions of the book, the brand also has a Yahoo! Health blog, a Web site, and a twice-a-week e-newsletter. Most recently, the Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide, the third book in the series, became the No. 1 Nonfiction Book in America the same week it debuted. The original Eat This, Not That! book has sold more than a million copies.
“We'll continue to put out worst lists because those educate the consumer and it keeps restaurants on their toes,” Goulding says. “We like restaurants to be on their toes, to be conscious of the fact that Americans are watching and in some cases you have to take some accountability with the dishes that you serve.”
Brinker International declined to comment.