Restaurant owners have long feared the health code grading system from the Health Department since they first began printing them in newspapers back in 1971.
But does the 'A' on your local pizzeria’s storefront really mean your walking into a first-class dining experience? Or does a 'C' mean really mean you should steer clear?
The New Hospitality Alliance, a trade group representing restaurants, recently asked Yelp to hold off on posting these subjective grades until reforms are passed by the City Council, raising the question whether there will be some potential future accountability on health inspectors.
Councilwoman Gale Brewer hasn’t said whether or not the City Council will be changing the current regulations, but she does agree that inspectors should have additional training, and co-chaired a hearing last March on the issue.
“People in the past weren’t training to be honest,” Brewer said of inspection practices. “Restaurants were really upset about the quality of inspectors.”
Though she said inspectors have been under-qualified in the past, Brewer remains hopeful that inspectors are properly identifying conditions that are considered unsanitary.
“If you have rats running around, you should close the damn place down,” she said. “If it’s a violation with signs or something, there should be more of an education component.”
While Daniel Delaney, owner of Delaney BBQ, is proud of the 'A' rating displayed in the front window of his newly opened barbeque restaurant in Williamsburg, he agrees there are many misconceptions that go along with the boldly stated lettering system.
“The problem with ABC ratings to me is the public will always receive it as a measure of generality, and it doesn’t matter if they’re unusual architectural violations,” Delaney said, explaining that many of the stipulations that go along with the grade do not necessarily have anything to do with sanitation of the food. “There is a lot of grey area for interpretation of the clauses and rules.”
According to Delaney, deductions can come from something as simple as a misshaped toilet seat or the wrong sized kitchen sneeze guard display case.
Because his restaurant cooks on a 25-year-old outdoor smoker and transports food throughout the city, Delaney says his restaurant is especially vulnerable. However, he has taken the extra precautions by paying the $125 for each member of his staff to take the trip to Harlem for their five-day food handlers certification course.
“We have an 'A,' and it was not an accident,” Delaney said.
Other restaurants that have been around for a while have found the inspection process difficult to keep up with.
Los Papis Restaurant at 77 Bridge St. just received a 'C' rating.
Inspectors reported unsuitable food holding temperatures, workers using improper cooking utensils, signs of vermin present in the restaurant, and a risk of contamination as result to food storage and inadequately stored sanitation products.
Arfenio Perez, a restaurant manager at Los Papis, felt the restaurant was unfairly scrutinized by city inspectors, and agreed there should be more accountability on their end.
“When they came in, I really think they were really too tough on their inspections with what they’re looking for,” Perez said.
Many restaurant owners, who do not necessarily rake in the cash, blame the city for squeezing as much as they can out of owners, digging for checkmarks rather than grading on the things that effect the food.
“The things they were looking for were unnecessary and they were digging a little too deep, I think,” he said.