Calorie counts will appear on menus by September following a "responsibility deal" between the Food Network and the Department of Health.
The agreement between the industry body responsible for encouraging healthy eating and the Government is one of three voluntary deals agreed with the food industry, aimed at tackling the growing problem of obesity among both adults and children.
Restaurants, staff canteens, fast-food outlets, take-aways and sandwich bars that sign up to the scheme will be expected to display the calorie content of food at the point of sale.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley wrote to all members of the Food Network, which includes processed food manufacturers, fast-food companies and catering giant Compass Group, to ask for a written commitment to make the changes following initial discussions.
Rather than imposing mandatory regulations, Lansley believes that the food industry will be more committed if the targets are negotiated on a voluntary basis. However the Government is likely to consider taking compulsory measures if the firms fail to deliver on their promises.
The Food Network firms will also agree to reduce salt levels to help cut salt intake to the recommended 6g per day by next year and Lansley wants businesses to agree to the removal of artificial trans fats by the end of 2011.
Last year, Lansley told the Commons Health Committee that he was keen to help the public make better choices when they ate out.
He said: "It's all very well having calorie labelling on your supermarket shelf, but if a third of meals are being taken out of home, and there is no clear labelling on those, it is a major gap in people's ability to understand literally the quantity of food they are eating, and try themselves to manage their diet."
A previous attempt to introduce the idea of displaying calorie counts on menus was trialled in 2009 by the Food Standards Agency. Burger King, Compass Group and Pizza Hut were among 18 firms to take part in the trial.
But it emerged in July last year that only five, including Eat, Subway, Pret A Manger and the Real Greek, have agreed to give a "forward, long-term commitment" to display calories in outlets.
By Janie Stamford
E-mail your comments to Janie Stamford here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Caterersearch.com jobs