After reading The New York Times article on letter grading restaurant inspections, I think this is the way to go. To boil it down for you: the New York City Department of Health will be moving to a posted letter grade system (A, B, C) for all restaurants by July 2010. Los Angeles has had a similar system for ten years with great results. I have been to LA a number of times and found a lot of comfort in the eight-by-ten-inch letter posted in the front window.
As a food-service-establishment owner, I would have no issues with posting a letter grade on the window for all to see. I am really not sure who would have issues with it. The letter grade system gives restaurants a transparency that doesn’t necessarily already exist. If you are not running a pristine operation, shouldn’t your clientele get to make an educated decision about where they eat and why? Don’t restaurants have a duty to their guests to have at least a passing grade on an inspection? Is having to post a B or a C grade on your window a restaurant killer?
A few years ago, Minneapolis had a great inspection system; it actually called and made an appointment with the establishment for the inspections. I realize this sounds wacky, but to me the process made total sense. The way I interpreted the system: Let’s see how good an establishment is when it knows exactly when the inspection is happening; if the inspection goes poorly, then it must be really bad when an inspector isn’t around. For some reason, this system went by the wayside.
Back to letter grading, I do take exception with inspectors immediately posting the grade in the window after the inspection. I think restaurant owners should have some time for appeals and due process; mistakes do happen, although ignorance of laws and safety is no excuse. Food needs to be safe. Maybe peanut corporations should have letter grades on their factories.