New York restaurants have had letter grades hanging in their windows for a full year now, but are those A's too easy to come by? A majority (69 percent) of the city's 24,000 restaurants have ended up with an A grade, though many of them were inspected multiple times. The borough with the cleanest restaurants by letter grade is Staten Island (73 percent of the joints there have As) while Queens has the dirtiest (12.3 percent of the restaurants there boast C's). Oh, and there are some very suspicious clusters of restaurants who are just shy of having B's and C's all across town.
In the last year the Health Department has made 73,749 inspections of the city's restaurants and 40 percent of restaurants received an A on their first try. In the end 69 percent got an A, 15 percent got a B and 4 percent got a C (as of July 1). But it isn't quite that simple! The Wall Street Journal did an analysis of the grades and found some suspicious clusters of restaurants with A's and B's who were just shy of being knocked down a grade. The cutoff for getting an A is 13 points, and the Journal notes that "there were 2,304 restaurants scoring 12 points and 1,656 restaurants scoring 13 points, but only 287 restaurants scoring 14 points." There is also a similar cluster of restaurants just above the C grade.
What exactly that means is difficult to say with absolute certainty but a biostatistics professor at Columbia tells the paper that the "sudden drops" were surprising, adding that "It looks like outside forces might have had an influence on the violation points of restaurants," before putting out the idea that maybe there are disincentives to give grades on the bad end of the stick. What kind? "Either in the form of pressure from restaurant groups, or in the extra work it may entail to re-visit the restaurant for regrading."
Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: letter grades have been great for the city's coffers. Since they were introduced the amount that the city has collected in fines from the restaurant industry has jumped from $32.7 million in the previous fiscal year to $42.4 million in the fiscal year that ended last month. Wonder how much more the city will make once they start grading food carts and theaters!