All Articles Food N.Y. Restaurant Association continues fight against letter grades

N.Y. Restaurant Association continues fight against letter grades

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This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began posting letter grades in the city’s restaurants this week, the result of a policy passed despite the strenuous objections of the New York State Restaurant Association, which hasn’t backed down from its arguments now that grades have started to go up.

The association’s numerous concerns include the fact that the grade represents a moment in time and doesn’t give patrons a fair sense of the restaurant’s day-to-day conditions. The organization, which had some success tempering the original ordinance during the months of public comment, still worries that misunderstandings and unfair grades could lead to a loss of business at its members’ establishments. It recently sent a plea to members to support a push that it says could turn into a legal challenge, possibly on First Amendment grounds. The group’s letter comes with a request for suggested donations of $2,000 per restaurant from companies that support the push. Donations would go to support scientific research into the impact of the new system on public safety and business; public outreach efforts; and research into a possible lawsuit.

In school, an “A” denotes a perfect — or practically perfect — score. In the real world of restaurants, perfection is rare and “A” graded restaurant are allowed a few flaws, a fact that’s spelled out on the health department’s new health inspection website, in the section explaining how restaurants are scored. The grading system itself raises a red flag for the association, which says the system was supposed to be based on one that’s been in place in Los Angeles for the better part of a decade. New York’s system differs from the one in Los Angeles, leading to potential confusion and making it tougher to get an “A,” the association says. The West Coast city’s system follows the traditional grading scales we’re used to from school, with anything over 90% earning an “A.” In New York, lower grades are better — each violation is assigned a point value, and restaurants dinged with 13 or fewer points earn the top grade.

The health department’s searchable website includes a page for each of the city’s 28,000 or so restaurants, including links to the restaurants’ inspection reports. “A” graded restaurants will see their marks posted first, as any eatery earning below a top grade automatically qualifies for a re-inspection, and the sheer number of New York restaurants means it will likely be more than a year before all of them have their grades posted. Meanwhile, the restaurant association expects to remain active in its efforts to ensure the new rules don’t take a bite out of business at the city’s eateries.

Among the group’s additional objections:

  • School cafeterias, hospital restaurants and food trucks are exempt from the posting requirement, despite being subject to the same inspections as traditional eateries.
  • Violations not related to food safety still factor into a restaurant’s overall grade.
  • C-graded restaurants are still deemed safe to serve food to the public, but the lower grade is likely to tarnish the establishment’s reputation and potentially hurt sales.

Is the grading system fair? Do you agree with the restaurant association’s decision to seek financial support from members for its efforts to fight the policy?

AllisonAschauer via iStock