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Health inspection grade change

Question:

Our most recent health inspection had violations, some legit and some I'm fighting. While working to correct them, I have a B letter grade to post, as well as a Grade Pending sign. I can legally post either until reinspection. Which is better?

– Restaurant Owner, Brooklyn, NY

Answer:

While your restaurant is located in New York City, the problem you raise is familiar to restaurateurs in many municipalities with letter grading. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, “Two types of inspections result in a letter grade: initial inspections for which the restaurant earns an A and reinspections that result in an A, B or C. A restaurant has two chances to earn an A in every inspection cycle. If it doesn’t earn an A on the first inspection, it’s scored but ungraded. An inspector goes back to the restaurant unannounced, typically within a month, to inspect it again and the re-inspection is graded. If the grade is a B or C, the restaurant will receive a grade card and a grade pending card. It can post either card until it has an opportunity to be heard at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings Health Tribunal.”

You raise an interesting question: Would consumers rather see a grade less than an A or a Grade Pending sign? As more municipalities adopt letter grading, and even greater transparency of health inspection results is being pushed (expect to see QR codes linking to the full inspection report posted along with letter grades in the not-too-distant future), how do you communicate problems on inspections to guests?

While certainly some guests will be unfazed by a low grade, especially if you provide great food and service, others won’t cross the threshold if they see a B or C. My advice is to go with the Grade Pending. While a B provides a clear indication that the inspector found violations, a Grade Pending invites an explanation and conversation with a guest, and invites you to tell your side of the story—and that you intend to fight the violations at tribunal. Train your staff to be able to explain to guests what the sign means and how you can offer them a delicious and safe meal.

To my knowledge, there has not been a study done on whether consumers prefer a Grade Pending sign to a B or, for that matter, a C grade. Keep an eye on this column—it is a good research project for 2013.

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