NEW YORK (MainStreet) – In New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles, restaurants are required to prominently post the letter grade they received on their most recent health department inspection. If diners had their way, cities across the country would follow suit.
The latest Top Restaurants survey from Zagat looked at more than 1,500 dining establishments in 48 markets to find the top restaurant in each market. But it also asked more than 156,000 frequent diners to give their take on a hot-button issue: whether restaurants should have to prominently disclose how they did on their latest inspection.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of diners want to know how clean the kitchen is. Nationwide, 81% of those polled by Zagat said they want health department grades in every storefront that sells food. Support was highest in Los Angeles, where grades have been ubiquitous since 1998 and 95% of diners are on board with the system. On the other end of the spectrum, just 70% of Minneapolis residents liked the idea of inspection grades – apparently some Minnesotans don’t want to know how the sausage gets made, so to speak.
Perhaps most telling is that in cities where the grades are already used, diners say the grade influences their decision whether to eat at an establishment. The vast majority of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco diners say they won’t eat at a restaurant with worse than a B rating. And that, in turn, keeps restaurants honest: A Stanford study found that the introduction of posted grades to Los Angeles restaurants reduced hospitalizations due to food-borne illness by 13%.
The grading system isn’t perfect: In addition to inevitable complains from restaurant owners, a recent Wall Street Journal investigation found circumstantial evidence that a degree of grade inflation may exist for some restaurants. But despite these shortcomings, diners are clearly eager to know more about how clean things are in the back.
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