Not to be too cynical, but they're not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
Today McDonald's announced a major overhaul of its menu billboards to include calorie counts by every item. By as early as Monday, diners will know exactly how much energy they're getting from an Egg McMuffin or a Big Mac.
The broader restaurant industry has long opposed the idea of posting calorie counts -- even as the Supreme Court made it the law of the land when it upheld the Affordable Care Act. As a result, many observers of Big Food are now applauding the fast-food chain for meeting a deadline that hasn't even been unveiled by the government yet.
Beyond the obvious PR boost, McDonald's may be onto something else that other, more reticent vendors haven't caught onto. According to a nationally representative phone survey of 663 Americans conducted in 2009, 51 percent of respondents said that calorie postings would make them more likely to eat at a given chain. Twenty-nine percent said that their habits wouldn't change either way.
Consider that for a moment. Eighty percent of Americans would be enticed by calorie postings or, at least, not driven away. Just by putting calorie information on the board, fast-food restaurants can actually increase dinership. From McDonalds' standpoint, being transparent about calories isn't a concession or a setback. It's a good business decision.