Alphabet Soup: NYC to Start Grading Restaurants

By Jillian Scharr
|  Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010  |  Updated 7:05 AM EDT
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Alphabet Soup: NYC to Start Grading Restaurants

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A culinary student rushes through the kitchen with greens during a class for aspiring professional chefs at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.

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Sure you may be eating Grade A meat, but what if the restaurant serving it is an "F?"

Restaurants will be graded on food safety starting at the end of July, city officials said Tuesday. The NYC Health Department announced it has drawn up plans to begin assigning grades of A, B or C to the city's over 24,000 restaurants.

The restaurant inspections will be the same as they've always been, and each cited violation will still contribute to a certain number of points. But restaurants used to be given the total score, now, the score will correspond to a letter grade which must be posted at the restaurant's entrance.

Restaurants with 0 to 13 "violation points" will receive an A.  Scores of 14 to 27 points are a B, and 28 or more results in a C.

The Department hopes the new rating system will save time. Restaurants with A grades will be inspected yearly, while those with Bs will be every 5 to 7 months and those with Cs every 3 to 5 months.

Restaurants can appeal grades, too, and receive a "Grade Pending" sign to post in lieu of the contested letter until a re-inspection is conducted one month later.

"In the first year or so of grading, we expect that most restaurants will earn a B grade," said the Department of Health in the initiative's documentation.

According to the official notice of adoption, while developing the new regulations the department asked for feedback and received 278 responses, only 22 of which were against the letter grades.

"I think it's a good idea," said bartender Jordan Brown at Ta Cocina Restaurant in Hell's Kitchen.  "People should know what they're getting when they walk into a place.  I think it's good to keep people accountable."

Other restaurants in Hell's Kitchen were more skeptical.  Some called the initiatives "not realistic."  Some were wary of the Health Department and declined to comment. 

"I'm optimistic it'll be a good idea but I have my doubts," said manager David Andrews of Xie Xie Sandwich Shop.  "As long as it's fair." He added that "I do feel like it might be harder for the smaller businesses versus corporate ones."

"it's all online; why shouldn't it be on your window?" laughed Areti Monias, part-time manager of Westaway Diner.  She did express some concerns: "as a manager...we just don't know what to expect from the inspectors."

"if for some reason we get a bad review it's going to really affect business," Bartender Peter Kumprarun of the Thai French Kitchen said.  However, he pointed out that Los Angeles has the same system and that it "might improve restaurants" here in New York City. 

According to the NYC Department of Health, Los Angeles' implementation of letter grades resulted in twice as many restaurants receiving the highest food safety standards: 40 to 80 percent.

Ten thousand NYC emergency room visits a year are linked to health issues from food-related hygiene, according to the Health Department.

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