Do you think health department restaurant letter grading helps? - Brooklynian

Do you think health department restaurant letter grading helps?

Yesterday the NYT wrote about how a number of restaurants suffer a lower letter grade just for serving things the right way. I didn't know that it's a health code violation to serve a steak medium rare, to keep meat at room temperature for a few minutes before cooking, to serve kimchi or soft cheeses at room temperature. More on this in my post: http://dopaminejunkie.blogspot.com/2012/03/nyc-restaurant-grading-why-b-is-fine.html

Do you think restaurant letter grading makes our food worse? Is it another revenue stream for the city? Appreciate any thoughts.

Comments

  • Yeah I think it's a mistake me and a lot of other people make: the letter grades don't correspond to cleanliness.

    They mostly have to do with how well you know all the fine print. In other words, how good your legal advice is.

    You can get lower grades for technicalities you mention, and you could keep a dirty kitchen and get an A every time. It just has to be dirty the right way.

    I think they're better than nothing. They're also clearly just a revenue stream for the city. In theory that's fine, but it ends up hurting small business owners.

    That is what happened to more than a few businesses in Bed-Stuy.

  • their rating system is mess up. they should change how things are graded.

  • Thanks for the input! I remember a favorite (admittedly dirty) restaurant in Queens shut down last year due to health code violations, but reopened shortly after. Now if I look them up, they have an A rating and a near perfect score, with previous findings deleted due to a hearing. I am assuming this goes for a lot of establishments as well. They get a lower rating if they don't hire a consultant to assure an "A," then they spend more to schedule a hearing and a re-inspection. The system is good for blatant violations but minor ones seem really only up to luck, or knowing what to hide and when. I want to know what the throngs of restos in Park Slope think about all of this.

  • Well, the theory is this....you can go into any establishment that sells food and ask to see their last health inspection report (which may have not been for almost a year). But, very few if any ever did that. Then the city said that the report had to be posted in plain sight but that wasn't followed too closely either. So, this was the easy way to get restaurants to comply and hopefully clean up their act (pun intended). Also, if your establishment got a C and the one next door got an A where do you think most customers are headed.

  • I'm not going into a sushi place that gets a B.

  • I like letter grades as long as grade inflation doesn't set in.

  • BKChickie said:

    I'm not going into a sushi place that gets a B.

    Because you're worried they keep the fridge too close to the back door? Or the counter is 3" too high?

    Or are you still under the impression that the letter grades reflect the safety of the food they serve?

  • Better than nothing. If a place has a C I think its safe to assume something is not right there. I have no hesitation eating at a B. Grand Canyon has a B I eat there every week.

  • its really stupid especially when the ratings has nothing to do with the food parts. they should just do it on food not how things are place etc...

  • witch-king said:

    I like letter grades as long as grade inflation doesn't set in.

    Let's make sure to appoint the next health commissioner on the basis that s/he will improve the city's failing grades.

    Grade Inflation Presto!

  • armchair_warrior said:

    its really stupid especially when the ratings has nothing to do with the food parts. they should just do it on food not how things are place etc...

    Exactly.

    It's also a burden on small businesses that unfairly effects individual business owners.

  • I want small businesses to be burdened with keeping food perparation areas free of vermin or making sure there is soap in the bathroom. I'm glad that the vast, vast majority of restaurants do the right thing and get an A or a B. Restaurants that get a C or lower need to clean up their act. I also like having the information easily accessible. It's great motivation.

    On a related note - very dissapointed to see Al Di La get 24 points (barely a B). Kitchen staff should not smoke in the same room that my Saltimbocca Alla Romana is being prepared.

  • I want small businesses to be burdened with keeping food perparation areas free of vermin or making sure there is soap in the bathroom.

    If that was what the letter grades represented, or doing those things kept the health dept from fining you to death, I might agree.

    But having spoken to local business owners in Bed-Stuy where I am, that is sadly not the case.

  • I wish they would be more honest about their approach to taxation, and just increase the sales tax, instead of implementing lots of fines.

  • If they increase the sales tax everyone has to pay. If someone gets a fine, it's on them. Why should I pay for another person's problem. Now Whynot, don't tell me you're a socialist.

  • If the fines are truly random (as the cynics believe), doesn't this mean that every restaurant will have to pay them eventually?

    ...so there would be no difference between this and flat tax system.

    Of course, there seems to be some relationship between dirt and fines. Why else would proprietors clean up their acts?

    BG-

    Are you claiming that the small businesses are a victim of an oppressive police state?

  • BG-

    Are you claiming that the small businesses are a victim of an oppressive police state?

    I'm not CLAIMING anything. I'm telling you what I was told happened.

    I know businesses who for some reason became the focus of the health dept and were subjected to multiple inspections per week for months on end.

    They weren't even coordinated.

    Inspectors would come one day. Then a different team would come the next day to inspect the issue that had already been addressed.

    One guy told me he had two different teams come in the same day for the same issue.

    There was no coordination.

    No organization.

    The goal was most certainly not public health.

    It was a straight money grab by the city gov.

    As you say, it was a flat tax. Except one that some business had to pay over and over and over again.

    It disproportionately hurts individual business owners who have less money, less clout, fewer lawyers.

    And to get back to my original point: most fines and letter grades are for technicalities that don't actually influence whether your lettuce has salmonella in it.

    So it's not even like it's a good strategy to keep your food safe.

    It's Bloomberg's NY.

  • I've always believed that as long as people don't think enforcement is random, we all behave better.

    So, while it sucks to be your over regulated friend, the rest of us might take actions under the false belief that we are keeping the city at bay.

    We don't realize (or don't care) that the if we all rebelled, the city could do nothing to us.

    From a macro sense, do good outcomes matter whether they were intended or not?

  • old nyc trick, have a sack of money in the take out bag, give it to the inspector :p and problem will go away. also trick is illegal if you do it to the wrong inspector!!!

  • whynot_31 said:

    I've always believed that as long as people don't think enforcement is random, we all behave better.

    So, while it sucks to be your over regulated friend, the rest of us might take actions under the false belief that we are keeping the city at bay.We don't realize (or don't care) that the if we all rebelled, the city could do nothing to us.From a macro sense, do good outcomes matter whether they were intended or not?

    I've read this twice and still can't follow it.

    If you think putting undue stress on individual business owners is creating some greater good, I don't see it.

    The letter grades don't do much to make your food have less salmonella.

    The city inspectors are so dysfunctional they're putting people out of business.

  • armchair_warrior said:

    old nyc trick, have a sack of money in the take out bag, give it to the inspector :p and problem will go away. also trick is illegal if you do it to the wrong inspector!!!

    I suspect that this problem has largely been addressed by placing inspectors who write a suspiciously low number of tickets under greater supervision.

    Quota systems are pretty good at weeding out this kind of fraud, and they effectively encourage employees do the part of their job that they dislike (i.e. give some lowly restaurant owner a ticket for a seemingly minor violation of the code).

  • I'm sure the inspection system can be improved, but even a flawed system is better than none.

    Also - the city has always inspected restaurants, the issue now is that the scores are visible in the restaurant window and the reports are easily accessible online. More information for the consumer is always a good thing.

  • What I think would be interestting would be if they could find qualified Inspectors to check out Doctors Examining rooms. There you have all your body parts exposed to paper covered tables, get shots with needles, have a Doctor and/or a Nurse or other medical person examining parts of your body with their hands (hopefully wearing sterile gloves), treating open cuts & bruises etc:. Who is checking out the cleanliness and sterile atmosphere in these examining rooms? Sounds like it would be at least equally important as retaurant inspections. It also could help prevent the several infections like MRSA or E-coli that are running wild and not easily treated with anti-biotics. HMMMM

    :scratch:

  • Thank you for your comments. An anonymous commenter pointed out this restaurant graded A but with evidence of live mice in their food areas. Very interesting if you ask me. Check it out: http://dopaminejunkie.blogspot.com/2012/03/evidence-of-live-mice-in-a-graded-nyc.html

  • Anyone who has worked in food service knows that rodents and insects are part of the business.

    While the grading system may reduce the chances of seeing them, I think we all could have a busy lives if we choose to spend them writing about restaurants that simultaneously receive A ratings and have insects and rodents.

    I'm just glad that thanks to quota systems, we now have pretty effective ways to measure the inspectors.

    When one combines the quota system with the letter grades, I believe we have made great progress.

  • Point taken, whynot. Thanks for your input. Just pointing out also that "A" doesn't necessarily mean rodent-free, or superior to a "B" restaurant that got a bigger penalty for a structural flaw but no evidence of pests. Like the person who won't eat in a "B" sushi place. Would that same person eat in an "A" sushi place with mice?

  • I would at least try barbecued mice:

    image

    "At first bite, I found the barbecued mouse decent, but too bony to really dig into. Sometimes I took too large of a bite and chipped off and swallowed some bone, but it was no big deal because mice have really brittle bones."

    http://gastronomyblog.com/2008/03/05/eating-mice-can-be-rather-nice/

  • According to a little article I read in Newsday yesterday, salmonella poisoning in NYC restaurants is down 13% since the letter grading went into effect.

    According to CBS radio news this morning many restauranteurs say the city's food inspectors are arrogant and are constantly changing the rules.

    Guess for the restaurant owners it's the proverbial rock and hard place.

  • PG-

    I can't say that puts them in any worse position than the rest of us. Every New Yorker deals with enforcement and fines that are pretty random; some years they get me more than others.

    I find when I am sloppy or obnoxious about my rule breaking, they tend to especially find an excuse to give me a ticket.

    I'll need more evidence before I can conclude that this isn't just a case of the restaurants finally being treated like the rest of us,

    OR

    that they can't do something to minimize their risk of being caught by a known hazard (the city).

  • over all it has done more good than bad, but i wish they would make it more effective.

  • armchair_warrior said:

    over all it has done more good than bad, but i wish they would make it more effective.

    Yes.

    If mice are the enemy, shouldn't we go directly after them?

    Maybe they could give away cats to catch the mice?

    After all, I have yet to be convinced that the mice really care what grade we give them, or that they can even read.

  • "... I believe the city has been using the grading system as an excuse to fine hardworking restaurant owners and is simply trying to generate revenue," said Greenfield, whose research concluded that fines have more than doubled in the last ten years in New York City.

    Tellingly, the administration's preliminary budget for next year has an increase in fines already budgeted in. "I'm all for clean restaurants, however, I'm against putting our best restaurants out of business by increasing fines for minor infractions like forgetting to cover a light bulb in a storage closet," Greenfield explained.

    ...Comments from Councilman David G. Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) at last night's City Council oversight hearing.

  • The restaurant grading system has the support of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers and it is a valuable public health tool. I hope that any changes the City Council makes to the system actually make it better and not worse.

  • The restaurant grading system has the support of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers and it is a valuable public health tool. I hope that any changes the City Council makes to the system actually make it better and not worse.

    lol politicians rarely make things better.

  • No. Different agents rate the same restaurant differently

This discussion has been closed.