Restaurant Law Blog

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Department of Health Letter Grading – Success or Failure?

It should come as no surprise that there are considerable mixed reviews regarding the apparent success or failure of the Department of Health letter grading system.  On August 1, 2011 Mayor Bloomberg and the Health Department released a survey conducted by Baruch College, which shows that approximately 90% of New Yorkers approve of the letter grading.  The survey also suggests that approximately 70% of New Yorkers now rely on restaurant grading when choosing where they will eat.  In restaurateur terms, the financial impact of “earning” a B or a C is devastating.  New Yorkers are also becoming keenly aware of what “Grade Pending” really means. 

As of August 1, 2011, the Department of Health had issued 5,792 A’s, 1,006 B’s, 256 C’s and 1,314 Grade Pending cards in Manhattan alone.  The inspection process is a two-part system.  An initial “non-grade” inspection is conducted and if your violations equates to less than 14 points you receive an A and there is no second inspection.  Not surprisingly, rarely is an A issued at the first inspection.  For those unlucky establishments that do not earn an A on their initial inspection, they will be inspected a second time, usually one to four weeks later.  That inspection will determine your letter grade.

According to many restaurant owners, the grading system is nothing more than an illegal tax on businesses.  According to the New York Post, the Bloomberg administration’s budget office is projected to raise almost $900,000,000 in fees and fines.  Given the staggering number, it's no wonder restaurant owners are seeing red.  Another philosophy is that Department of Health inspectors are motivated not by money, but fear.  When letter grades were initiated, the inspection process was viewed as corrupt and many inspectors lost their jobs as a result.  With so much focus on the stringency of letter grading and the historic corruption of the inspection process, one must question whether inspectors are cautious to issue A grades fearing that they will be perceived as too lenient, or worse “on the take.”  The reality probably lies somewhere in between. 

James DiPasquale, Esq

DIPASQUALE LAW GROUP

Restaurant Law New York

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