Restaurant graders get graded

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The graders are getting graded.

The city council recently surveyed restaurant owners throughout the city, reviewing the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) inspection process of eateries in the five boroughs.

“I am troubled by the wave of complaints the council has received from restaurants — even the ones that get “A’s” — about the fairness and inconsistency of the food safety inspection process,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“We are just trying to survive here,” said one Bayside restaurant owner, displaying an “A” in the front window.

He said that despite the grade, he has had to pay violations twice over the past year.

“The way they change the rules, I had to hire a guy just to make sure everything is perfect. I know they are trying to look out for the customer, but they should be more worried about places that have ‘B’ or ‘C’ ratings.”

Starting in July 2010, the DOHMH made it a requirement for restaurant owners to post the letter grade results of their sanitary inspection.

The questionnaire was open from January 10 to January 31. More than 1,000 restaurants participated in the survey, which was available in seven languages.

The 42-question survey will cull data from restaurateur’s experiences with the inspections.  Questions ranged from “To what extent has the letter grading system had an impact on the health and safety of food establishments in New York City?” to “How might the DOHMH improve its inspection process?”  The study will provide the city council insight into how restaurants are affected by the inspection system.

The New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) supported the “important initiative,” distributing the surveys to thousands of restaurants throughout the city.

“It’s time we have an independent assessment of the city’s letter grading system because it is failing New York City restaurants in many ways,” said Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of the organization’s New York City chapter.

The grading system is intended to bolster aptitude toward being as clean as possible, but many restaurant owners believe that the frequency of inspections and number of fines received are becoming increasingly unfair.

Inspection cycles are individual to each restaurant, based on its pattern of cleanliness, according to the DOHMH. Some inspections are based on customers’ complaints or re-inspections from prior violations.

The public has overwhelmingly come out in favor of the grades — more than 90 percent approved of the program, according to a summer poll by Baruch College — but the city council said they wanted to make sure restaurants were being treated fairly.

The survey results will provide a foundation for an oversight hearing later this year, where the council will further explore the inspection process and possible areas for reform.

Additional reporting by Bob Doda