Less than a year after the city's letter grading system underwent a massive rehaul, the Department of Health and the City Council have announced further changes to the system. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the DOH announced today that restaurants will see a nearly 25% reduction in fines associated with inspections by the agency, bringing fines back down to where they were before the grading system was adopted. Piggybacking on previous revisions, violations will be given fixed penalties, leaving out room for discretionary figures calculated by inspectors.

To further reduce violations during inspections, restaurants can "request a consultative, ungraded and penalty-free inspection to receive tailored advice about maintaining the best food safety practices at their establishment." Restaurant owners had been hiring consultants to spot problem areas and ideally prevent huge fines during official inspections from the agency.

With the opportunity to bring in city-sanctioned consultants, restaurants should be able to get a better grasp of the myriad things inspectors look for on their visits. The DOH tells us existing restaurants will be charged $400 for the service, which will "include a comprehensive review of their inspection history to identify recurring problems." New restaurants will be pay $100 for the consultation.

"Today's announcement by the City Council and Department of Health is part of long awaited reforms to the restaurant letter grade system that were advocated for by the NYC Hospitality Alliance, and originally announced last summer," said New York City Hospitality Alliance executive director Andrew Rigie in a statement. "We commend the City for taking action on these promises and we encourage them to work with us on implementing more sweeping regulatory reforms that are needed and deserved by the NYC restaurant industry."

The Health Department also began implementing a system whereby restaurants who score fewer than 14 points after adjudication—if they chose to contest their violations—won't be required to pay fines for any of the remaining sanitary violations from that inspection. This could mean more incentive for restaurants who are willing and able to take their day in court rather than pay the entire free to the DOH to avoid additional costs associated with court proceedings.

Finally, if an inspector somehow misses a "structural problem" during an inspection the restaurant won't be held responsible if an issue is noticed in subsequent visits. They'll still be required to fix the problem and could be subject to fines if the problem isn't corrected on another visit further down the line.