Should Restaurants Be Required to Post Health Letter Grades?

Categories: Chow Bella

Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail Miss a question? Go here.

A recent Zagat survey revealed 81 percent of diners nationwide support restaurants being required to post their health department letter grades (the state of Arizona shows 73 percent in favor of it.). In major cities, the majority of diners say letter grades influence their dining decisions and that they will eat only at restaurants that earn a B or better. What do Valley restaurant owners and chefs have to say about it? Here's a few of their answers:

Pavle Milic
Owner, FnB

YES: Good practices should be rewarded. I think it provides an added value to a diner. In terms of accountability, I won't go into a restaurant that has a negative mark.

Lenard Rubin
Chef and owner, The Vig

NO: Some of the violations don't accurately reflect the sanitary quality of the establishment. For example, not having the correct consumer advisory printed on your menu or even a small menu insert will net you a big point deduction. You could get a B, C, or even a D and not have a violation that would affect the sanitary environment that the restaurant's food is prepared in.

Chef de Cuisine Akos Szabo,
Top of the Rock Restaurant at the Buttes Resort

I'm on the fence with this issue because I have worked in cities where inspectors are literally or politically bribed into giving a restaurant a better grade than they were due, but I understand it means a lot to consumers to know they are dining in a facility that showcases a grade in the window. I have eaten at A-graded restaurants that should have been D's.

Chef Cullen Campbell,

YES: I think it's a great idea to post health letter grades. It would make me feel better every time I eat at a Filiberto's, but I would still probably eat there anyway because of my addiction to fast food.

Eric Flatt, Owner Tonto Bar & Grill & Cartwrights Sonoran Ranch House.jpg
Eric Flatt
Co-owner, Tonto Bar & Grill and Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House

NO: Most food poisoning results from the producers or growers of the food. Rarely do you have issues with the restaurants. Yes, it is possible, but who in their right mind wants to chance serving a bad food item only to get the guest sick, refund their money, lose a customer and have them tell everyone what happened?

Chef Jason Alford
Roka Akor

YES: Every member of a restaurant needs to be accountable for ensuring every guest has a safe dining experience. Every time. There are no exceptions.

Dana Mule
GM and partner, Hula's Modern Tiki

Yes and no. Everyone has a right to know if the places they eat are abiding by the current health code. The issue as a restaurant is that the posting of a letter grade does not tell the whole story. On our last inspection, we got a "critical violation" for having a sealed bag of ice touching the freezer floor and another because the light bulb in the freezer was burned out. Our freezer is 48 inches x 48 inches, and when you open it, the full bank of fluorescent lights right above it fully illuminate the icy interior. By utilizing that word without context, you'd think we stored our fish on the kitchen floor.

Chef Charles Schwerd,
Arrowhead Grill

YES: L.A. County does it and it's proved to be a quick and easy reference for patrons to evaluate the cleanliness of the restaurant.

Brent Shinyeda.jpg
Brent Shinyeda
General manager, BLD

NO: At least until the Health Department has a better grasp on how these letter grades are given and has educated the public. Our inspection was on Friday of the first week of these letter grades being in effect. According to our inspector, only one restaurant that he inspected over the course of the week would have received an A. Too many people are familiar with the California grading system. There, if a restaurant gets a B grade, it could be the death of them. Here, a B grade would be perfectly acceptable, but no one knows that.

What say you, diners? Should Valley restaurants be required to post health letter grades? Would you make your dining decisions based on them?

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I don't think my boyfriend and I would care about letter grades when choosing a place to eat, mainly because there are too many problems with the way they score and rate restaurants for a grade. Besides, we have our favorite places and would still go there regardless of their letter grade.


I've dealt with county restaurant inspectors before, and can tell you that your grade has as much to do with the kind of day that individual is having as it does with the sanitation of your restaurant.  And even then, like a lot of these chefs say, point deductions don't differentiate between having a bulb burned out or lacking a requisite menu warning and serious stuff like high food storage temperature, contamination, infestations, etc.  Even a sparkling clean restaurant can get a low grade for items totally unrelated to sanitation. The letter grade does not tell the whole story. Requiring posting the letter grade is unfair to restaurants who have inconsequential slip-ups. 

All of these ratings are available online, with explanations of the ratings and violations.  That said, if a restaurant wants to post its "A" then by all means post it, and diners can assume that if a restaurant doesn't have it posted then it's not an "A."  It's like sifting through college resumes--if they include grades, they're typically good grades.  If they don't include grades, you can assume the opposite. 

Deja View
Deja View

 Haven't we already had this conversation here?

Reed Hearne
Reed Hearne

I agree with Brent. The problem is that the public has no idea on what basis the letter grade is determined by the Health Department. Along with the grade there needs to be a broad understanding of exactly what each letter signifies.

Reed HearneAmazingServiceReally.Com

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simple tip

I've always thought it would be a hoot to have a few, say, food writers' home kitchens and eating spaces inspected by a county food inspector, using the same standards and criteria to which restaurants are subjected. I think it would open alot of eyes with regard to how clean most commercial kitchens are kept and how seemingly little things add up to major cooking, storage and service violations.  And I dare New Times to step up and do just that: Pick three or four of your food editorial staff/bloggers, and have their home kitchens, pantries and eating spaces scoured by unannounced, county health inspectors. I'll bet nobody would get a passing grade. 

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