Independent restaurateurs fear Public Health England proposals that suggest limiting main courses to 951 calories could stifle creativity and threaten Britain's place on the culinary world stage.
The proposals, which include specific measures for the dining out sector, follow a public consultation carried out by the government last year, and suggest curbing the calorie content of several dishes - including pizza at 1,040 calories, and chips, waffles and mashed potatoes at 416 calories.
Richard Bainbridge, chef-owner of Benedict's in Norwich, told The Caterer that the industry was already working to reduce the salt and fat content of dishes, adding that further regulation would require investment at a time of tight margins of financial stress across the sector.
He said: "I think it would change the way we cook, and it wouldn't be beneficial for the chef on the creativity side, but also for the consumer coming into our restaurants. We'll be so terrified of making slight changes at the last minute, and that is the reason we own independent restaurants, because we can do what we want. I can write the menu as I want whereas this would stop all of that. I think we've worked really hard in the UK to be known on a world platform for our food, our creativity and our produce. So if you now start restricting all of that for no real sensible reason, I can't see it's going to be beneficial for anybody."
He added: "If you look at the government and what they do to small businesses already, in terms of employment, national insurance, pension contributions… I'm having to do all of this and then you want me to literally have a nutritionist in my kitchen to make sure that we match those guidelines - what are [they] trying to do? Shut the small independent restaraunts down? With these big national chains who hide fat and sugar to make their food almost addictive so people will want to go back - I think it's sensible to make them do it, but when it comes to the small independents that are just trying to make a living and be creative I think it's detrimental to our businesses."
UKHospitality has previously stressed that any inflexible mandatory requirements would place considerable burdens on smaller businesses and those venues that change their menus regularly.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls explained: "At a time of economic and political uncertainty, and with costs continuing to rise for employers, the last thing businesses need is additional, unwieldy legislation."
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, has outlined the need for action. She said: "Children and adults routinely eat too many calories and severe obesity in 10- to 11-year-olds has reached an all-time high.
The proposals are currently voluntary, however a spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said the government may take further action if calorie limits are not sufficiently met by 2024.