Despite an outcry from restaurateurs, the city Health Department has voted to approve a reform measure requiring NYC's 25,648 food-service establishments to publicly display letter grades that summarize the results of food-safety inspections. A similar public grading system has been used in LA for years, and NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley insists, "The grade in the window will give you a sense of how clean the kitchen is—and it will give every restaurant operator an incentive to maintain safe, sanitary conditions." Specific rules and procedures have yet to be written, but officials say the system will be phased in this summer, and will work something like this:
Restaurants will receive grades based on the number of violations documented during their sanitary inspections. Each establishment will post a placard at the point of entry, showing its current sanitary grade, and restaurants receiving A grades will be inspected less often than those receiving lower marks.
Under the new plan, a restaurant receiving an A grade will post it at the end of the inspection. If the grade is lower than an A, the restaurant will not have to post a grade until it has a chance to improve its sanitary conditions. The Health Department will return within a month to conduct a second inspection. Restaurant operators who contest their assigned grades will be able to post “grade pending” signs until they have had an opportunity to be heard at the Department’s Administrative Tribunal.
Today's vote comes after a public hearing and a month-long open comment period, during which some restaurant owners stridently objected. The New York State Restaurant Association insists the "letter grading will be more misleading than helpful" and "will be unfair and a black eye to this industry in the restaurant capital of the word." Of course, this is an industry that's no stranger to black eyes—remember the West Village Taco Bell rat rodeo, and the Vinny Vincenz rat pizza party?