FQotD: Dear PoP – Restaurant Grades

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

Per attached, NYC is getting set to enact a restaurant letter grading system reflecting the sanitary conditions at restaurants and are requiring to be posted prominently in a front window, or on a door or wall that can be seen immediately as diners enter.

I lived in LA for years and the grading system was very helpful in determining restaurants to be avoided for lack of sanitary facilities. as evidenced by a daily examiner (i think) article a few months ago, there is just no way for a consumer to know whether a restaurant is up to code, somewhat sanitary, or god forbid varmint infested.

any idea whether a similar grading system is being considered in dc? while the restaurateurs in NYC may fight the new rule, it would seem an opportunity for restaurants to embrace the system and use it to their advantage.”

So for the Friday Question of the Day: What do you guys think – would this be a good idea for DC?

25 Comment

  • good idea, but the potential for fraud is pretty immense. perhaps making it a voluntary system with a set fee for service might help.

    • Seriously. If there’s any city where such a system would become corrupt the minute it’s enacted, it’s Washington DC.

  • How about this…if a place looks a little sketchy and you are a big wuss, don’t eat there and go to somewhere that isn’t so scary. Simple enough…

  • Why do you want to feed the bureaucracy? There is already a health department, if they are doing their job, every restaurant should be compliant. A good reputation doesn’t cost anyone anything. If you have a bad experience at a restaurant, don’t go back and don’t recommend it to anyone. The City Council has real problems to deal with… no need to debate the Restaurant Letter Grading System Tax.


      You’re second sentence was quite funny.

      Refer to Anonymous 8:35am

      • The use of “if” and “should” really eliminates the humor in it (for me). Compliance is often a product of margin which creates incentives to maintain appearances. The point is, there is already a system in place to promote a level of confidence in all establishments. Real or recurring problems should result in action, a grading system might accelerate that, but at what costs. While it seems harmless, I can only imagine how complicated the process would be and how infrequently it would occur unless they hired extra people.

        • I’m not arguing with your analysis or your point. I’m just saying the actual practice of health inspection in DC is much like other city services: cradle to grave employment for people who don’t really want to try very hard.

  • I lived in a city with the grading system and all an A grade really proved was that either the place was up to standards or were willing to bribe the inspector.
    When a place had a B grade, you knew that avoidence was the best bet…bad and broke.

  • oooh a new source of bribes!

    Captcha “discussing valhalla”. It’s like I’m conversing with the Battlestar Gallactica hybrid.

  • I too lived in California (Sacramento) and the grading system did nothing for me. Places that have serious health code violations get shut down – even here. But the grading system allows inspectors to be nit-picky about minor things. And them some people say “oh I don’t want to go there, because they have a B and not an A”. I did know people like that, it annoyed me a little, because most of the time the grade B or C isnt a serious health violation, and people might assume (as I have seen (few)people do) that they will get some kind of sickness from eating there.

    @ anon 8:35 But the grading system can be an eye opener to some people in that I have seen many “sketchy looking places” get an A and many fancy, really clean looking restaurants would get a B or C. So in other words, you can’t judge a restaurant/ eating establishment from the outside.

  • I used to live in L.A. and had a friend who worked at a sushi restaurant. They used to keep pounds of fish in large ice buckets, some of which were on the floor due to lack of space. Well, L.A. has a regulation where fish can not be stored on the floor. Doesn’t matter that they were in large ice buckets. So the place got shut down. Point being that most of the grades are BS.

  • I’m in support of any inspection system where the restaurant’s score is ACTUALLY posted in plain view next to the entrance where customers can see it. This is a strictly enforced law in my hometown (Nashville). Do we just not have these laws in place, or are they not enforced?

    Then again, Nashville grades restaurants on a scale of 100 and posts an actual carbon copy of the inspection with the score, so you can see exactly why they’ve been marked down (stupid reason, like Darth Fabulous’ comment, or something like not having any hot water or dish soap?). I think this system is way more informative than a blank sheet of paper with a letter grade on it.

    There are plenty of “sketchy” restaurants out there with very high health department scores, and very nice places that are filthy behind the scenes. I’d like to actually see everyone’s scores posted, clearly and honestly, so I can feel informed when I walk into a new restaurant. Tasty food doesn’t matter if it makes you sick.

    • I was about to say as someone that has lived in Chattanooga and Knoxville — this is the standard in Tennessee. Restaurant reports are not only posted in the windows, but regularly reported in the news. I think the letter grade system of California is just away to make the information in the inspection reports more quickly discernible. But probably not needed. The Tennessee system works fine.

    • I don’t see a down side to doing it. I would like to see grades posted in the window AND reported in the local news. Oregon is another state that uses this system.

  • Agree with the earlier poster, this would be abused the second it was implemented. It’s better to use something akin to yelp (although maybe not actual yelp).

    Voting with your dollars and word of mouth is much cheaper and much more efficient. To be honest, the majority of DC’s residents see absolutely nothing wrong with having rats in their grocery stores, so they’re really just going to call you a wuss for complaining about a dirty restaurant. There’s no common societal standard for what constitutes “dirty” in this city.

    • But there is a system of health inspections that has a whole series of standards. All health grades do is take information that is already there and make it more easily understandable. I know the standard libertarian response is that we should all be perfect consumers and have done the research — and if we want to eat at a dirty restaurant its our civil liberty that allows us to do so! In reality, information is not readily available. And not easily accessible by everyone (of course the Darwinian approach to life that libertarians like to take would say this is fine. Those that don’t know will die and improve the gene pool.) Public disclosure of inspections is just about making information easier to find.

      • I’m not much of a libertarian, but thanks for labeling.

        I’ve also lived in *this city* long enough to know that unless everyone anti/pro gentrification, black/white/yellow/blue agrees on a common standard for what is considered *clean*, you’re wasting everyone’s time. We have standards and they’re not enforced. Why? because culturally some people think the standards are way overboard. You could shut down 50% of DC’s restaurants tomorrow if we decided to enforce the rules already on the books with enough inspectors. Also, the culture of *DC Government” is to make everything as cheap as possible for it’s poorer residents. It’s not to have the best of anything, it’s to have the cheapest. That’s the way DC VOTES. What part of a new health system sounds like cheap for restaurants or residents?

        The information IS available if you’re actually interested in looking for it. The fact remains that MOST people are happy using their own eyes and ears and probably not knowing the rest, if the food tastes good. Every 5-7 years, people get all in an uproar about restaurant cleanliness and one or two restaurants get shut down as a result. Then everyone goes back to their merry little lives and eats where they like the taste of the food again.

        It’s fun to be 20ish and all full of optimism and vigor. Have fun with your plan.

        • I’m 36. But I appreciate you thinking I’m younger.

          Can you show me where restaurant inspections aren’t working in DC? My only quibble is the information isn’t easily discoverable. And yes, it’s difficult to find. It’s certainly not as easy to find as posting it on the door would be. Not everyone has an internet connection. Or time to research restaurants before choosing one. (I’d say fair number of people choose a restaurant by walking by it. It’s not preplanned.)

          The system of publicly displaying restaurant inspection information is easy enough. It works well in Western states and it works well in Tennessee and other Southern States. I fail to see the harm.

          And for the record, I don’t live in DC. I gave it a shot for 6 years — for reasons that remain a mystery — but moved to NYC in August. Yet? I still think DC has potential. And regularly monitor news about it.

  • I remember years ago reading a piece in the Post about a pizza shop that didn’t have running water, yet continued to operate. The pizza owner said that, being a pizza joint, it’s not like they used much water so what’s the big deal? And you wash your hands? No, of course not.

    We need some sort of system to let us know what’s up with our food.

  • This is how they did in NC where I am from. i was surprised to move here and not see it. the law also requires to you post the grade in a very ovbious place, like at the front door or behind a register. Anything below a B I believe is automatically shut down. Its pretty stringent. I had a friend who managed a fastfood joint and it was insane the things they had to do and there were always surpise inspections. FWIW my college cafeteria got shut down once for a few weeks becuase of ceiling particles or something that could fall into the buffet lines. Its a pretty good system quite frankly, well at least it is in NC. But posters are right, DC would just eff it up at some point. There there would be a huge “investigation” of all the folks taking bribes.

  • This is a city that’s going to potentially elect a guy who doesn’t support removing teachers who can’t teach and who does support metro workers who can’t count train cars. Do you really think this city cares (the majority voting block) what the cleanliness status is of a bunch of restaurants that they can’t afford to eat in anyway? Do you think any of them would support shutting down their local “chicken-subs-pizza-falafel-and things” take out because of some upper class weak tummy issue?

    Fat chance.

    Not that I personally oppose the system, I just think it’s got a snowballs chance of even getting on the radar.

  • I would like to see the owners of these establishments forced to wear their letter grades around their necks.

  • isnt that why we have yelp?

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