Home Healthy Eating Should Restaurants Like “The Heart Attack Grill” Be Illegal?

Should Restaurants Like “The Heart Attack Grill” Be Illegal?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

So… just curious to know what other fitness-minded people think about this topic.

I’ve written about whether or not 2,500 calorie dishes of pasta should be illegal:

I’m a firm believer in the idea that if these restaurants are going to serve these gut-busting atrocities and pass them off as meals, then they should also be forced to make the nutritional information for those dishes available to the public… just like the processed food manufacturers. Not as an obscure link on a website. As a part of their menu. To me, it just makes sense – if the FDA says that food manufacturers have to put the nutritional info on the side of the box, then restaurants should be forced to have the information equally readily available. Kudos to CSPI for helping bring to the forefront the issue of hidden calorie counts.

However, to say that because CSPI uncovered these heart-stopping (literally) findings means that we should all campaign to have the dishes banned by law? I think that’s quite a reach. I mean, complaining about high-calorie appetizers that are supposed to, by definition, whet the appetite… you’d probably do better to talk to the person who orders the appetizer as their meal and remind them that “this dish is intended to serve 4… not one.”

I’ve also written about The Heart Attack Grill, before:

Complete with its own wikipedia page – which makes it kind of a big deal? – and a Yelp profile a mile-long, The Heart Attack Grill pulls no punches: the sign on the window says, plain as day: “This establishment is bad for your health!”

The entire restaurant carries a theme. The owner walks around with a stethoscope, the servers – apparently inspired by the Hooters’ girls, if not but a little bit – wear skimpy nurses’ uniforms, put hospital ID bracelets around your wrist and offer to wheel you out of the restaurant… in a wheelchair.


Offering up unlimited fries fried in pure lard, coke made with real sugar (oooooh, fancy – pardon me as I roll my eyes so hard I cannot type), a butterfat milkshake and burgers with names like the Single-, Double-, Triple- and Quadruple Bypass Burger, The Heart Attack Grill does what it can to live up to its motto: “taste worth dying for.”

Oh, and let’s not forget: if you think you weigh above 350lbs, you get to stand on a scale in the middle of the restaurant and have your weight checked. If you’re above that magic number? Guess what – you eat free. Every. Day. Every. Single. Day. And don’t think there aren’t people out there taking advantage of that perk. If you’ve seen this spot on Food Network or Travel Channel, you’ve seen the clips of people admitting as much.

However. Now, that The Heart Attack Grill has people literally dying in the restaurant:

At first Basso didn’t believe it because in the hospital-themed restaurant, where wait staff wear sexy nursing uniforms, and the diners are outfitted with hospital gowns, the employees and customers sometimes role play.

“No, he’s really having an f-ing heart attack,” one of the employees told Basso, he said.
Basso, who goes by the name “Dr. Jon” in the restaurant, and who plays the role in a white doctor’s coat and stethoscope, called an ambulance and paramedics were quickly on hand to treat the man, who Basso described as a normal, “run-of-the-mill” guy in his 40′s.

The customer, who is in his 40s, was reportedly recovering in a nearby Las Vegas hospital after the attack, said Basso, who is not a doctor.

…and, considering how the restaurant completely plays up the idea of “everything in here is ‘unhealthy’,” “eat at your own risk,” yadda yadda… should these kinds of joints be illegal?

Not even just illegal – should the government have some kind of say as to when enough is enough in food and restaurants? Or… do you think the public should simply avoid these kinds of places? I mean, considering how we’ll all be contributing toward everyone else’s health care now… are these kinds of places, places that blatantly mock our health-consciousness by serving up 8,000 calorie quadruple bypass burgers, be on our metaphorical hit list?

(Note: It should be noted that, as far as I could find, two of the three Heart Attack Grills that were opened have since closed. That being said, I’m still curious about restaurants who might try to follow this similar path.)

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BalancingJane May 24, 2012 - 12:45 PM

Sure, these restaurants are using fattening and unhealthy foods as a gimmick to draw attention, and giving people free food for publicly weighing themselves is irresponsible, but I don’t think it should be illegal.

As you point out, there are plenty of other restaurant dishes with ridiculous calorie counts. (Denny’s Grand Slamwich- 1520 cal; Cheesecake Factory Chicken Carbonara Pasta- 2290 cal; Outback Steakhouse cheese fries- 1963 cal). At least the Heart Attack Grill is upfront with the risks in its food, and their appeal is directly connected to the real problem: people don’t care.

I’ve had so many friends and family tell me (when they find out I’m cutting processed foods) “I’m going to die of something. Might as well enjoy the food I want.” They say it like it’s a badge of honor to not care about the healthfulness of their food, and that’s what the Heart Attack Grill is tapping into when they have people proudly stand on a scale to show off their 350+ pound frame for free food.

It’s infuriating. Why don’t we apply this logic to everything, then? “I’m going to die of something. Might as well drive 100 mph, have unprotected sex with strangers, etc.” Sure, SOME people make those choices, but we don’t collectively bemoan how ridiculous it is to have warnings against these unhealthy actions, but culturally we look at food so differently.

So, in short, I don’t think that making them illegal would really make a difference. Until we have a cultural shift in our nutritional education, the real problem remains.

BalancingJane May 24, 2012 - 12:53 PM

Re-reading my comment, I want to clarify that I don’t think it’s okay to shame people for being 350+ pounds and stepping on the restaurant’s scale (and I hope it didn’t come across that way). Other people’s individual bodies are not the battleground to wage this war.

I would also argue that–even if it’s under the guise of “celebrating” that person’s size–having someone stand up and be publicly weighed like that is contributing to a culture of fat-shaming where weight is seen as a spectator’s entertainment.

GingerRoot May 24, 2012 - 1:13 PM

Should they be illegal? No.

There comes a time when people need to step up and be responsible for self.

Being an adult comes with adult responsibilities. And one of those responsibilities is making your own food choices.

If someone wants to eat a 2500 calorie plate of pasta or something called, “Quadruple Bypass Burger,” that should be their choice.

It’s the parents responsibility to educate their children on proper food choices. If that didn’t happen, then it becomes the adult’s responsibility to educate him/herself and pass it on.

But ultimately, it’s the individual’s choice whether or not to follow them. It’s not the law’s job to police people’s eating habits.

Lost 80lb and kept it off for 16yrs May 24, 2012 - 1:13 PM

No, shaming the restaurants is not right but transparent calorie counts on all menu items should made legal. As for large and in charge Americans, I cannot help myself, it’s a callamity friends. It’s not the occasionaly overweight individual who is irresponsible but now an entire nation. It is our duty to our fellow man to stand up for the WEAK. The issue is should we be “POLITICALLY CORRECT”, I say “NO”, people need our HELP! Offer it in a kind a genuine way and you will always be embraced. Lead by example at all times and offer help to all who show willing, for the rest, they need educating. The majority of very overweight people feel helpless, trapped, they don’t need to be, we can ALL HELP!>

Michelle R May 29, 2012 - 8:00 AM

It is our duty to our fellow man to stand up for the WEAK. The issue is should we be “POLITICALLY CORRECT”, I say “NO”, people need our HELP! Offer it in a kind a genuine way and you will always be embraced.

Excerpted from Should Restaurants Like “The Heart Attack Grill” Be Illegal? | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

Forgive me, but the issue here is not “being politically correct”. The issue here is “are (legal adult) people free to do with their bodies as they please?”. The answer to this question must always be “Yes,” because if it is not, then the door is open to control anything that you (the generic “you”) find undesirable about someone else’s physical person–gender identity, pregnancy/parenthood status, sexual habits/acts, eye color, skin color, you name it.

As for what you have called the issue, that “weak” people need (y)our “help”, there are so many negative value judgments wrapped up in there that I don’t even want to start sorting them out. Suffice it to say that if you believe someone needs your help because they’re weak (and this idea, combined with the title of your reply, leads me to believe you consider yourself “strong”, or at least stronger than the weak people you’re referring to), you are probably the last person they want or would accept help from, if only because you come off so harshly and judgmentally. There is an old proverb that might apply here: “There is nothing so strong as gentleness, and nothing so gentle as true strength.”

Alexandrea Ward May 24, 2012 - 1:53 PM

From what I understand, they have the customers sign a waiver to excuse them of any health issues because of their food. They know exactly what they’re getting into when they go to restaurants and eat stuff like that.

Jamila August 13, 2012 - 9:07 AM

This is sad 🙁 I think a restaurant like this should be illegal. True, that people are grown and make their own choices. But, when there’s someone addicted to food or hate themselves so much that they use food to “cope” or whatever the case is, a restaurant playing off the weaknesses of people isn’t right at all. I mean, COME ON!…”non-filtered cigarettes”?????

Sylvia November 17, 2013 - 3:07 PM

I just guess I just have a problem with being told what I can eat or not eat, what I drink and what size it is and oh so many other things that have been marked as illegal. If I want to eat a batch of fries cooked in lard what gives you the right to tell me I cant? If I want a large soda what gives you the right to tell me I can only have 6 oz? Its my body. I pay for my own health care. If I want to drive without a seat belt and die if hit by another car again that’s my right. I always wear my seat belt seat but but its my choice. Cigarettes’? Liquor? Fat or thin? All these things are my choice not yours. Before you say something else should be illegal think of what you like or do. Would you like those things marked as illegal? Think about it?

Darran Mansfield November 14, 2013 - 7:41 PM

I can see what your saying about the ridiculous amounts of food some people are eating but making it illegal isn’t going to help anything.

Before anything I’ve got to say I’m in the UK and our health care system (NHS) is different to yours, but I can see what your saying, people that are clearly harming themselves and then burdening the system both sides of the pond is just wrong, if they want to harm their body that’s their prerogative but applying the resulting costs onto the rest of society is not acceptable, not only are they raising the costs for others but their taking valuable money and skilled medics away from other vital areas like research for instance.

Getting back to the main point, where would this stop, just from the top of my head there’s research out there that says we should be eating approximately 2000-2500 calories so to stick within them parameter would they limit meals to 500 calories? If that was the case that stops healthy people eating what they want, take Michael Phelps, he packs away 12,000 calories when training. A 2000,4000 even 10,000 calorie meal would be fine for him, but if they were banned/capped he wouldn’t be allowed to eat what he wants, even though it’s not harming him and he’s fit and healthy.

I just don’t think it would be realistic to cap or ban these types of meals & restaurants, what would be next, sweet and drinks…then what?
And there are bigger problems out there, they couldn’t pick on the food & healthy indusrty without picking on the alcohol and tobacco industry, could they?

Sadly, if someone wants something they will find a way of getting it, if they didn’t there wouldn’t be worldwide drug problems…there illegal and look how well that’s going.

It comes down to education, I’m fat…well slowly shrinking (lost 75lbs so far) and I used to eat really bad junk food mainly because it was quick, easy, cheap and tasty (well some!). I knew it was “bad” but not how bad it really was, I’ve since learnt and wanted to change myself, I now look at things a lot more and with exercise I’ve lost weight.

I think we should be asking the governments to stop food manufacturers putting unnecessary additives/ingredients into our foods, its shocking what’s in some products and how people have no idea there in there. What was wrong with real food in the first place?

Sorry for such a long comment, I just love this type of conversation 🙂

Mark Scott July 6, 2014 - 9:11 PM

Firstly, I don’t think anyone is in any way shape or form thinking that this type of eating is healthy. The Heart Attack Grill is simply using the obesity epidemic as a marketing tool, and in all honesty is no worse or in any way more “bad taste” than plenty of other marketing gimmicks out there. To be perfectly honest it isn’t even as bad as marketing gimmicks promising miracle weight-loss….at least this is making no false claims about how you are eating stupid amounts of calories.

Secondly, it needs to be down to the individual whether or not they eat this type of food. I admit that I went to the Heart Attack Grill while visiting Vegas the last time and went in and ate the whole thing of the quadruple bypass burger…that doesn’t mean I am morbidly obese, nor that I think eating this number of calories every meal of every day is something that is particularly good to do.

The difference is I have a brain and try to use it…making things “illegal” to protect people from their own stupidity seems excessive to me and unfairly hurts the freedom of choice for those of us who do enjoy overeating but do so in moderation.

In truth, a lot of societies issues with obesity don’t stem from this type of venue. It stems from other establishments offering “healthier” options which simply aren’t. McDonalds I feel is far more irresponsible when it comes to this because they try and keep the unhealthy nature of their meals under wraps…the HAG does no such thing and is openly saying how unhealthy their burgers are…I am quite sure you could eat there and have a normal sized burger or even do one of the big ones once a month and still lead a healthy lifestyle…it is the problem of constant overeating coupled with “driving to the end of the block for a paper and milk” laziness that causes the problems!

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