A day after Mayor Mike Bloomberg held a press conference touting the successes of the city’s letter grading system for restaurant health inspections, members of the City Council are saying that a majority of businesses don’t actually like them.
Bloomberg, alongside the city’s health commissioner, told reporters yesterday that requiring restaurants to post their letter grades has done nothing but good for the city since the policy was first implemented in 2010.
Most New Yorkers like seeing As, Bs, and Cs in restaurant windows, restaurant sales have jumped, more businesses have improved their cleanliness, and salmonella infections have gone down, the city reported.
Everyone wins, right?
Not so fast, City Council folks said today, holding their own press conference releasing data from a restaurant inspection survey that was sent out in January.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a likely mayoral candidate, organized the survey, somewhat pitting her against the current mayor (She’s typically been a close ally, but has recently disagreed with the administration more frequently, perhaps to distance herself from Bloomberg in preparation for her mayoral bid).
The City Council received 1,297 survey responses, Quinn’s office reported today, and a majority of restaurant owners aren’t pleased with the system.
The majority of participants in the survey actually received “A” grades on their inspections, but still 65.9% rated the city’s letter grading system as “poor” — a sign, Council members said, that the system is unfair and inconsistent.
Additionally, 68% of survey respondents said the letter grading system has “significantly” increased the cost of operating.
Bloomberg yesterday said these kinds of criticisms are just sour grapes, and that while not everyone is going to agree with every inspector, since it is subjective, it’s still an effective and important policy that is keeping restaurants clean and healthy.
It’s not a surprise that chefs and business owners are unhappy with the policy. Some have even tried to dodge the grades by pretending they’re not really restaurants.
Today, the City Council is holding a joint hearing of the committees on health, government operations, and small business to discuss the grading system. (Restaurants shouldn’t be afraid to speak up!)
We couldn’t attend the hearing today, but a spokesperson from the Health Department referred Runnin’ Scared to the city’s press release sent out yesterday. The city’s health commissioner Thomas Farley is also testifying today at the hearing.
Here’s a short excerpt from his prepared testimony, sent our way:
I know that you will hear complaints today from some restaurant owners. But just imagine this scenario: Salmonella cases are up 14 percent; the number of restaurants with rodents has increased by 50 percent and viral videos of rats in kitchens dominate the web; and restaurant sales are plummeting.
What would happen? The Council would hold a hearing and demand to know why the Health Department wasn’t doing its job. You would describe horror stories of constituents getting sick, and you would demand swift action. And you would be right, because my job is to protect the health of New Yorkers.
Fortunately, the opposite scenario is happening right now. Since restaurant grading began, salmonella cases are down 14 percent. The Department’s website shows that 72 percent of restaurants have received the top grade for cleanliness. Restaurant sales are up almost 10% since grading began, increasing by $800 million. And 91 percent of New Yorkers say they support restaurant grading.
I understand that some restaurants don’t like to post Bs or Cs in their windows. And I understand that they don’t like to be fined when the Department finds a violation. No business likes to be regulated. We have high standards for restaurants because we are charged with safeguarding public health. Most restaurants are meeting those standards, and we spend a lot of time helping them get an A. But we will not lower our standards.
Update, 5 p.m.: The Dept. of Health just sent Runnin’ Scared this statement on the City Council survey, criticizing its methodology: “We welcome restaurants’ suggestions for improving the inspection and grading program, and in fact restaurant owners played an important role in helping us devise the system. But the Council’s survey was actually an online complaint box, not a representative sample of opinion. An independent Baruch College survey of New Yorkers found 91 percent approve of grading and 88 percent consider grades when dining out. With 72 percent of the city’s restaurants getting As, more and more restaurants are getting cleaner and cleaner, and the public’s health is better for it.”