As the Grey Lady (a.k.a., The New York Times) deftly points out, “by the end of (today), several restaurant windows in New York are quite likely to display . . . a brilliantly colored placard bearding a letter grade.” Grades for restaurants in NYC are about to be posted. However, the vast majority of grades – particularly those with Bs and Cs – are not likely to be posted until the end of August. So what exactly does all this mean? How are these letter grades different from the infraction points the Department of Health used to post on their website?
First of all the main difference seems to be in visibility. On the front page of the NYT, there is an article about corruption in the Russian police forces and how endemic it is. One senior official, in response to a series of claims by Alex Dymovsky against corruption in the forces, responds that “the system is . . . very transparent.” The same is the goal with the new letter grade system – transparency. Previously, restaurant ratings could only be found on the health department’s website. Where exactly? Well… here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/rii/index.shtml Now, how many of you have honestly gone there to check a restaurant’s rating? Right, very few.
Now, with the postings as visible as the Zagat’s/TONY/New York Magazine etc. reviews typically posted boastfully in the restaurant windows, the average person strolling down the street trying to find a good place to eat can know the cleanliness reputation.
How are these letter grades different from the previous system? Well, according to the Times article, “the department (of health) removed many inspection categories from the scoring process”. In other words, things like administrative errors – failure to post choking signs, failure to post “employees must wash hands”, etc. – are not factored into the grades. Additionally, if a restaurant appeals a letter grade they received, their sign would read “grade pending”. It is unclear how long the appeal process would be.
In terms of a one-to-one match up of the old inspection scores to the new letter grades, note the following. An inspection score of 0-13 is an A, 14-27 points is a B, and 28 or more points is a C. There are no grades given below a C. These grade cards must then be posted in an area easily visible to passersby. Each card is embossed with the department of health’s seal and has a unique serial number.
So what will be the outcome of this change to a grading system? Right now the effect is unclear. Restaurants receiving a grade lower than an A will automatically be reinspected before their grade is posted. This may mean that those restaurants clean up their act in the meantime. However, what does it mean for the restaurants that were inspected and received an A in the first round? What if they slack off and let a crazy band of rodents infiltrate their kitchens after the grade is posted? Will they then be demoted to a B or C? As the inspections are to be conducted randomly only once per year, its hard to say. The best bet may still be to read diner reviews of your intended restaurant online first before venturing out.
Waiter – what’s this fly doing in my soup?
Well, it looks like he’s doing the backstroke.