Listing calories on menus will be mandatory for restaurant, café and takeaway businesses with more than 250 employees under new laws being drawn up by government, in a move that UKHospitality has said "could not come at a worse time".
The measure, which could also be extended to alcoholic drinks, has been announced by the government as part of a wide-reaching crackdown on obesity intended to reduce the country's health risks to Covid-19 and ease the burden on the NHS.
The government has said its plans around calorie labelling follow research that people consume around 200 more calories a day if they eat out. However, UKHospitality has warned it could cost businesses up to an eye-watering £40,000 a menu.
Responding to this morning's announcement, the trade body has said the emphasis should be on nutritional education in schools, not adding additional burdens to businesses already fighting for survival.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "Cooking from scratch is what restaurants do every day, and it's how many of them manage to keep their offers attractive, with changing daily specials and locally-sourced seasonal dishes. Menu labelling could cost as much as £40,000 per menu run for some businesses, disincentivising such innovative and sustainable approaches and stifling the efforts to offer exciting and healthy meals to customers.
"A well-intentioned targeting of child obesity is at risk of evolving into an interventionist approach that heaps burdens on hospitality businesses just when they are at their most vulnerable and fighting for survival."
Prime minister Boris Johnson had said: "Losing weight is hard, but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier.
"If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS."
Alcohol calorie labelling will also be considered with a new consultation being launched before the end of the year. Other measures announced today including a ban on TV and online adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm, and restrictions on retail offers and the placement of items close to checkouts.
The government has said obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces, with almost two-thirds of adults overweight or obese, an issue brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from Covid-19.
Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared to 2.9% of the general population.
UKHospitality added: "We are genuinely keen to work with government to address obesity, but the extra regulatory and cost burdens of measures like menu labelling could not come at a worse time. Hospitality has played its part in lockdown, feeding and accommodating vulnerable people and key workers.
"Now, as we focus on securing jobs and helping the economy and communities to recover, a raft of costs and regulatory burdens would be a slap in the face."