The NYC Food Sanitation Grade
When is a grade of “B” just not OK?
Besides in my kids’ father’s house and some graduate school programs, the answer is “when the NYC Department of Sanitation comes around to inspect your restaurant for cleanliness”.
But a B is a passing grade when the restaurant police come calling. In fact, a “C” is a passing grade, too. But in a world where perception is reality—and this one sure is—you’d better not get anything below an “A”.
Why do I bring this up, here? Because The NYC Department of Sanitation has unveiled a business change that’s going to help create a healthier food service environment by putting dirty restaurants out of business. Not business change, you say? Read on …
Up until recently, restaurant inspections in New York City were graded pass/fail. I won’t try to explain what qualified as acceptable to the NYC Department of Sanitation before, or now; the rules are what they are, and your ability to keep your restaurant open depended and depends on whether the Sanitation Inspector thinks you deserve that right.
I talk about the idea of “Perception is Reality” from time to time, such as in this piece where I related Google’s perception of your website’s speed as one indication of your SEO Reality. By adding letter grades to the way the Department of Sanitation grades restaurants in NYC, the sanitation inspector’s decisions may have become less important that the perception passers-by have of the new reality. Here’s the story:
Under the business change the new system has created, what used to be “Pass” is now split into three letter grades. You get an A, B, or C depending on a ranking system, and if you fall below the criteria for a grade of C you get a “Grade Pending”. Grade Pending really means you failed, though, and the health inspector will return soon to make sure you’ve corrected the problems. If you haven’t, you get shut down.
There are two differences that accompany the new grading system for restaurant sanitation in New York City.
First, whereas under the old system restaurants were allowed to post their Pass/Fail grade in a dark corner, they now must post the grade, A, B, C, or even that euphemistic Grade Pending where it can be seen from outside the restaurant. That’s the literal business change; here’s the business change that matters:
Even though Grades of A, B, and C all represent states of cleanliness that are acceptable to the NYC Department of Sanitation and always have been, the perception of this reality is that anything less than an “A” is unacceptable.
That’s REAL business change. And it’s why perception truly is reality; if I perceive that a restaurant with a “B” isn’t clean enough I’m not going to eat there, and since most people don’t know how the old system worked, that’s the perception this system fosters.
The good news is that the new system has the potential to create not just the business change of perception, but a realty-based business change under which restaurants have a reason to care even more about their cleanliness.
And that’s a win for everyone.
Isn’t business change great?
FOLLOWUP, April 21, 2011: I’ve just discovered that there’s a secondary meaning for the “Grade Pending” grade being used by the NYC Restaurant/Sanitation/Board of Health system. If a restaurant gets graded “B” or “C”, they have the option of requesting a re-inspection and displaying a “grade pending” sign next to their “it-wasn’t-an-A” grade. The idea behind this is that a restaurant that displays both the less-than-ideal letter grade and a “Grade Pending” is saying “we care enough about you, our customers, that we won’t proceed with business as usual when we have less than an A”.
Nice Customer Service on that one, wouldn’t you say?
One small over site, and if you were a restaurant owner you would know this simple fact.
Re-inspection does not mean that they will come in to see if you corrected your last violations, but what they do , since it’s always a different inspector who usually doesn’t speak english, does an entirely new inspection and my not even see the old violation but yet try to find as many $$$$ other violation as they can.
Its simply not about public health but about city revenue.
most of my last violations are being dismissed because they just did not make any sense, and they were reaching to find any thing they could so it wasn’t a wasted trip.
violations such as an outside a/c was dripping water….OUTSIDE.
An air gap did not have sufficient space over the hot water heater in the basement.
Light bulbs were not covered correctly in a NON- FOOD storage area.
Really COME ON!
why don’t we just destroy the little guy now and get it over with.
Matt, I apologize for being less than precise.
I’m sure your explanation is more accurate than mine. But I hope you understand that what I was shooting for is very much the same thing you were: there’s need for change in the way business is conducted, and the change that the NYC Department of Health undertook by going to the letter grade system for food/health/restaurant inspection might actually have created a system that’s worse than what came before it.
Thanks for keeping me honest!
It will be easier method to group the restaurants in various grades to help the sanitation works easier and successful.It will increase the quality of the hotels and restaurants with proper sanitation.
I agree; grouping (MEANINGFUL grouping) would be helpful. The problem is that with what appears to me a grade being displayed but so few people understanding what the grade is for, the system doesn’t really help!
I cam to this post to learn a little about what actual offenses would bring a grade from “A” to “B” or “C”. Yes Jeff, obviously posting a “C” grade in the window will panic the public. But if the offenses that triggered that grade are absurd and irrelevant to actual sanitation, the public is not well served, jut manipulated. Bummer there’s no actual substance in this post.
Sam, ‘substance’ is subjective. What I try to do here is get people THINKING, and in general what I hear is that I succeed in that regard. If you’re looking for the nitty-gritty about grades, it’s point-based; each violation, as detailed in the Department of Health Guidelines, carries a certain number of points and when you get to plateau 1 you go from A to B, etc. Since the points aren’t posted and the details OF the points aren’t posted, in my opinion a conversation about THAT would have no “substance”.
Thanks for stopping by, though!