Should Restaurants be Graded for Cleanliness?

April 21st, 2010 by Kathy McManus

Debate over rating on merits other than food.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Writing in The New York Times’ Diner’s Journal blog, Glenn Collins reports on a new law requiring the city’s restaurants to “prominently” post city Board of Health-generated cleanliness grades in their windows—an “A” for a top score, a “B” for “a less sanitary but still passing rating,” and a yellow, failing “C”. “The grade in the window will give you a sense of how clean the kitchen is,” health commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley said. “And it will give every restaurant operator an incentive to maintain safe, sanitary conditions.”

But some restaurateurs call the system unfair. The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce described the grades as “a scarlet letter that will keep people from eating out,” while its spokesman “claimed restaurants posting anything less than an A would be treated by the public like Hester Prynne at a public shaming.”

One man who has eaten in more New York City restaurants than most everyone else, however, had a different take. “Quite simply, the inspection process is intended to keep us safe when dining out,” said Tim Zagat, co-founder of the restaurant guides that bear his name. “This, surely, is in the self-interest of any responsible restaurateur.”

Are New York City’s new restaurant grades a responsible improvement—or a public shaming?