Monitor and Evaluate

Menu Data

A waitress helping a patron with a menu selection

Menu data may be used to identify foods and beverages offered as part of evaluation of food service guidelines. In many food service venues, menu items may differ daily but are repeated over a specific time period; for example, menus may repeat every three weeks, four weeks, or six weeks. You can obtain menu cycles from food service managers or staff and assess them for compliance of food service guidelines.

Advantages of Menu Data

  • Menu data are particularly helpful for monitoring food standards that may only need to be met two or three days of the week, such as seafood or plant-based entrees. For example, if you only audit the cafeteria on one sample day, you may miss those foods that are served twice per week according to guidelines. Using menu data will allow you to examine the frequency that those foods are offered.
  • Menu data are especially useful where meals and snacks are served rather than sold, such as in correctional institutions or eldercare facilities. In places where food is served, the menu is decided by staff at the institution and consumers have little choice of which foods they receive. Measuring the foods served can be used as a proxy measure for foods consumed.

Disadvantages of Menu Data

  • Menu data are not useful as a proxy to assess outcomes where foods are sold because you will not know to what extent consumers are choosing healthier items.
  • Menu cycles often change with the types of food offerings and ingredients that can be procured during specific times of the year. This seasonality of menu rotation may require data collection in all quarters of the year (spring, summer, fall, or winter) to get representational data.