Dufffy's Korean Beef TacosDuffy’s Sports Grill is adapting to upcoming menu labeling regulations with the introduction of several lower-calorie menu items.

“It was fear of the upcoming Obama health care mandate,” chief executive Paul Emmett said of the 23-unit chain’s decision. “We didn’t want to get caught with our pants down and have a menu that was only one-sided.”

The mandate includes a provision requiring restaurants with 20 or more locations to list calorie counts.

The Lake Worth, Fla.-based casual-dining chain isn’t known for healthful food, Emmett said. But it now offers more than 20 menu items with fewer than 580 calories, including appetizers, entrées and desserts.

“We have hamburgers and fried foods,” Emmett said. “These are things that weren’t going to show up so well on the calorie count list.

“I think our humongous chicken Parmesan might have a lot of calories,” he added, laughing.

Lower-calorie menu items at Duffy’s include a mahi mahi entrée, a pork chop entrée, pasta primavera made with vegetable stock instead of oil and a grilled turkey burger. Emmett said he still expects 70 percent or more of his patrons to choose traditional, less healthful bar food.

The chain’s goal wasn’t to spur a paradigm shift to redefine bar food as healthful, he said, but to eliminate the “veto vote,” and not scare away large groups with a couple of health-conscious consumers in the mix. “Obviously, there’s a real heightened interest in lower-calorie items,” Emmett said. “The times are changing.”

Emmett cited Seasons 52 as an inspiration. The Darden Restaurants Inc. concept only serves menu items with fewer than 475 calories. He also looked at a couple of other concepts before settling on the 580-calorie point, he said, calling it a “well-accepted number for the industry.”

“It’s good to have [menu] options when people go to our concepts,” he said. “I think we have a competitive edge by doing this.”