Tell people to be healthier, and they might not take action. Tell them to leave off the mayo on their sandwich, and they’ll be more likely to actually do it.

People are more likely to pay attention and follow suggestions if they are given specific steps to take, as psychology experts have shown. So what if restaurant receipts told consumers more about their food choices and offered them healthier suggestions? Would people actually read the receipts and follow the advice?

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As reported by Bloomberg, SmartReceipt Inc. has developed a Nutricate receipt (meaning “to nutritionally educate”) that provides people with information about the meal they purchased, including total calories, fats, carbohydrates, and protein. The receipt (see one here) also gives specific tips based on the order, like telling the consumer to choose apples next time with a kid’s meal.

The receipts are already in use, and they have made a significant impact on people’s orders. A report (PDF) by economists at the University of California at Santa Barbara discusses the use of the receipts at Burgerville, a Pacific Northwest restaurant chain. The study spans more than two years and involved sales data from 39 Burgervilles.

I’m surprised so many consumers read the suggestions: Apparently 91 percent read most or all of their receipts. The restaurant saw the following changes:

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  • Customers became more likely to purchase kids’ meals with apples instead of fries
  • Customers selected more breakfast sandwiches without sausage
  • Customers requested main course items without cheese or sauce
  • A 20 percent increase in healthier desserts
  • A 12 percent increase in orders for salads

The receipt also achieved a 2.1 percent reduction in the average amount of cholesterol per transaction. However, there was no statistically significant effect on total calories per transaction.

Restaurant owners might be interested to know they found no evidence that the receipt reduced total sales. Also, 84 percent of customers liked or loved the receipts.

Giving people more information about food is good. But some important facts are left out, like how much sodium is in each item? And what about saturated fat content? Also, many people probably don’t know how many calories they should be consuming per meal.

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At OneGreenPlanet, we’re all about helping people make better choices for their health, animals, and the planet, so if this helps people make better choices, we’re intrigued by this idea. But fast food still isn’t the healthiest choice. And some restaurants might use Nutricate as a marketing strategy to convince consumers they are trying to be healthier without actually making better menu items.

So, can restaurant receipts help people make better food choices? It seems they can, although even better choices would be to stay home and fix a quick meal with mostly veggies and a little protein, to plan ahead and take food with you when you’re on the go, or to dine out at healthier restaurants.

 Image Source: Quinn Dumbrowski / Flickr