If you've strolled past any New York City restaurants lately, you might have noticed new window placards with letter grades staring out at you. You might have also noticed, "A's" are much more common than "C's."
Since July, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygene has been inspecting eateries with a new evaluation rubric intended to give consumers a simple signal as to how sanitary an establishment is. Under the evaluation scheme, the cleanest restaurants get labeled with an "A" grade. Restaurants that score the worst on inspections get a "C."
According to the department a "C" grade is roughly equivalent to any inspection score of 28 or above.
NBC New York examined records for all six-hundred-fifty Manhattan restaurants that have scores of 28 or above, and only seventy-six are currently posting a "C" grade. That means 88% of the borough's poor-scoring restaurants are currently avoiding the "C" label.
The reason for the delay in posting appears to be a lengthy re-inspection and appeals process that restaurants can take advantage of. If a restaurant does not score an "A" on its first inspection, it can wait up to four weeks for a re-inspection. If the second inspection score is still too high for an "A," the eatery can appeal to the department's Administrative Tribunal. Sources say if a restauranteur takes advantage of adjournments, he or she can stall the grading process for up to five months.
"This whole letter grade stuff only started in late July - we're only five months into it," said Robert Bookman, a lawyer who represents hundreds of restaurants. That's why you're seeing mostly "A's" up there because the people who have "B's" and "C's" are fighting it."
Bookman says the A-B-C grading system is ineffectual and of little use to consumers because health inspections are "snap-shots in time," reflecting the sanitary conditions on a certain day or week. When they're posted months later, he says, grades aren't good indicators of current cleanliness.
"This is a gimmicky kind of methodology which doesn't work and it's becoming clear to the casual observer that it doesn't work."
The health department maintains its new grading system strikes an important balance between timely posting of results on the one hand, and giving eateries plenty of time to exercise their due process rights on the other.
The heath department could not provide NBC New York with the average grade posting time, but a spokesperson said a typical restaurant is forced to post its grade within 2 and a half months of its first inspection. That estimate assumes no adjournments in the administrative tribunal process.
"We don't know the average time it takes for a restaurant to go through a tribunal because there are so many factors," said health department spokeswoman Erin Hughes.
If you would like to see how your favorite restaurant rates, click here.