Why Is Restaurant Food so High in Calories? (Answered)

Yes, there is no doubt that restaurant food is so good and may even be better than the home-cooked meals you have at home. But, at the same time, the deliciousness comes at a price that can’t be measured by your wallet or your credit card but by your weighing scale instead. Yes, that’s right, restaurant food is high in calories and even higher than the ones you have at home. So, why is it that restaurant food is so high in calories?

Restaurant food is high in calories because the portions are large and therefore more calorie-dense. Moreover, the priority of restaurant chefs is flavor and experience. Food that tastes good will likely require more ingredients, fats, oils, and spices that are more likely to lead to additional calories.

The next time you order that salad and salmon in a restaurant because you think it’s going to be good for your diet, think again because that may not always be the case. That’s why you may want to reconsider eating in a restaurant frequently if you are looking to lose weight or maintain your figure. After all, you don’t know what they put on your food.

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How many calories are in restaurant food?

When it comes to eating out in a restaurant, there is no denying the fact that these restaurants do indeed serve high-quality food that are not only appealing to the eyes but are also appealing to the senses, which include your sense of taste. And many believe that restaurants are healthier options to fast food chains, which take the brunt of the negative criticisms for their high-calorie and unhealthy food options.

But while we would often love to blame fast food chains for making the world fatter (even though that is very much true), we shouldn’t actually put all of the blame on them because restaurants are also equally guilty for making the world unhealthier and fatter. That’s because, yes, restaurant food is also high in calories. Even those dishes that are considered “healthy” may have more calories than you originally expected.

The fact is that a study found that 92% of the meals from large-chain and local restaurants actually have more calories than an average person is supposed to eat. And these dishes come from restaurants you probably wouldn’t expect to have dishes that are so calorie-dense. This means only 8% of such meals actually have lower calories than what the average person should intake.

Moreover, the same study involved researchers ordered takeout from 123 restaurants in Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock, Arkansas. These researchers pulverized the food they took out so that they could carefully study their calorie content and make a more informed decision regarding how healthy or unhealthy these meals may be.

What the researchers found out will surprise anyone who might think that they are eating healthy and low-calorie restaurant food. In fact, the research shows that restaurant dishes or meals come with an average of 1,205 calories. And we are saying that this is an average number because there will be meals that have marginally higher calories while others might have calories that are slightly lower.

Regardless of that, what we can point out is the fact that 1,205 calories are too much for a single dish or meal. To put it into perspective, an average man needs about 2,500 calories a day to maintain his weight. Meanwhile, an average woman needs 2,000 calories per day.

So, in other words, a single meal that has 1,205 calories composes nearly half of what an average man should eat in a day. And that is more than half of what an average woman should eat on a daily basis.

That would be fine if a person only ate that single restaurant dish or meal but you also have to consider that almost everyone eats multiple meals when they are eating in a restaurant. And then you have to consider the appetizers, the dessert, and the drinks as well. Adding all of those can very well reach 2,000 calories, which are close to an average man’s daily calorie intake and more than an average woman’s daily calorie intake.

Of course, you should also consider the fact that people eat multiple meals in a single day. Imagine eating proper home-cooked meals that are about 700 calories each for your breakfast and your lunch. But you end up eating 1,500 calories of restaurant food for your dinner. That can more than ruin a regular person’s diet. And if you are someone with enough money to eat in restaurants multiple times in a single day, then you could actually be eating at least 3,000 calories a day at a minimum.

So, as you can see, restaurant food is calorie-dense and can easily ruin a diet. In short, restaurant meals can also make you fat if you are not careful enough with what you are ordering and where you are eating. 

And you can’t even blame yourself for eating a lot of calories when you are in a restaurant because it is a basic biological reaction for you to want to dig into that heaping pile of cheesy and beefy nachos in front of you. In that sense, your only alternative might be to find the right restaurant that serves healthy foods. But it might even be better if you go for home-cooked meals instead.

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Why is restaurant food so high in calories?

Now that you know that restaurant meals and dishes are so high in calories, the one thing you might be wondering right now is why is that so. Well, there are plenty of reasons why restaurant food is so calorie-dense to the point that they can easily break your diet or more than exceed your daily calorie intake.

The first reason why restaurant food is so high in calories can be attributed to portion sizes. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that most restaurants focus too much on portion sizes because they want to satisfy the customers and give them the best kind of experience. 

After all, it isn’t rare for anyone to give bad reviews about a restaurant for serving small portion sizes. But when a restaurant serves larger portion sizes, you might not see people writing reviews saying “the portions are too large”. The better the reviews, the more likely that customers, new or old, will come in. And, of course, regardless of how healthy the ingredients may be, larger portions will always equate to higher calories in any kind of dish.

Another reason why restaurant food is so high in calories is that restaurants also sell taste on top of the experience. The very reason why people even eat in restaurants is to eat food that tastes good. Serving flavorful, tasty, and delicious meals and dishes will only put the restaurant at the top of the pack, especially if word of mouth and good reviews spread. 

That said, the problem with delicious food is that you need to put more ingredients, components, and spices that can help improve the flavor. So, whenever you are eating steak and you love how well-seasoned and juicy it is, it might not only be because of the quality of the cut of meat or the skill of the chef but it can also be due to the sheer amount of butter and gravy added to it to help improve its flavor. However, butter, gravy, different spices, and all of those additional ingredients all amount to more calories.

There are also certain types of food that are cooked in deep fryers that are full of unhealthy and calorie-dense oil. That fried chicken might taste delicious but the oil it was cooked in is packed full of unhealthy calories in the form of fat. And let’s not forget about the additional calories that the chicken’s batter and coating added to it.

On top of all that, you also have to consider the fact that some restaurants are trying to cut down costs and are not financially capable of buying ingredients that are lower in calories and are healthier. For example, avocado oil and extra-virgin olive oil tend to be healthier and lower in calories compared to other oils but the fact is that they are also more expensive than food shortening and cooking lard, which are cheaper alternatives but are more calorie-dense.

So, while the dish does sound like it is low on calories just like salmon fillet or even a salad, the fact that you don’t know what the chefs put on those dishes to cut costs and to make them taste good is what makes them calorie-dense. After all, the oil your salmon was cooked on might not be the healthiest. And, of course, that salad dressing on your salad might be full of additional calories that make the entire dish taste so good.

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Can restaurants lie about calories?

In an attempt to make America healthier because the FDA knows for a fact that restaurants are also partly to blame for making the country fatter, restaurants are required to state the number of calories they have for each item on their menu. However, research shows that some restaurants may not be too honest about the calories they put on their menu regarding the different meals and dishes that they serve.

NBC News found out that most of the restaurants they researched actually had higher calories than what is listed on their menu or website. And most of these restaurants commented that it is natural for calories on their food to vary because the calories of each food item can depend highly on many different factors such as the size of the ingredients and problems in relation to the consistency of portion sizes.

Now that it is actually out of the bag that most restaurants have inaccurate calorie values listed on their menu, does that mean that it is okay for them to do so? Are they in trouble for not being honest about the actual number of calories that their food and dishes have?

So, the sad part here is that the FDA actually gives these restaurants a lot of leeway in terms of the discrepancy of the calories they list on their menu and the actual calories that their dishes have. The rule is that they just have to be reasonable in relation to the calorie discrepancy. After all, because it can be normal for discrepancies to happen because calories highly depend on the size and the quantity of the ingredients, which can also vary depending on how the meals are prepared or cooked.

In that regard, most restaurants just put the average calories that their dishes have and not their actual calories. But the problem here is that the discrepancies can actually be too high to the point that a person can easily exceed his/her daily calorie intake because of that. So, if a person had a 2,500 daily calorie limit and decided to eat a 500-calorie meal from a restaurant after eating 2,000 calories the entire day, a 150-calorie discrepancy can easily ruin that person’s diet.

That said, while restaurants are not in trouble for “lying” about the calories that their food and meals have, that doesn’t mean that you should still believe in what is written on their menu, as doing so can easily make you exceed your daily calorie limit.

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What restaurant food has the most calories?

At this point, you already know that restaurant food is calorie-dense and can be just as unhealthy as fast food, you might be wondering which restaurants have the most calories. After all, you might want to avoid such restaurants if you are thinking of cutting down your calorie intake and lose weight.

However, we cannot say for certain which restaurants are the most calorie-dense in terms of the meals they serve because there are too many restaurants to mention. However, according to the same study we mentioned regarding the average calories than restaurant meals, it was found that the types of restaurants with higher calories are American, Chinese, and Italian meals.


As we can see, there are many reasons why restaurant food is usually high in calories. If you want to know the calory intake in every meal, some restaurants announce their calories either on their websites, menus, or asking from the waiter.

Omar Abdalla

I’m the owner of JRS. While I love writing about food, I also enjoy peaceful and relaxed cookouts at home.

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