New York City Restaurants Aren't as Gross as They Used to Be
Is there any worse feeling than walking by your favorite sushi place—the one you always order from on Seamless, but never actually go to—and spotting the dreaded B (or, oh god, C) grade in the window? It's a common scenario for New Yorkers who have grown familiar with the city's restaurant letter grading system, but one that's becoming less common every day.
Grub Street combed through this year's Mayor Management Report and found that in 2018, a record 93.7% of 24,000 restaurants received “A” grades compared to 93.3% of restaurants in 2017 and 85.4% of restaurants in 2012.
First, a brief rundown of what those letter grades actually mean. Each health code violation has a number of points assigned to it—for example, a restaurant may be given two points for not properly sanitizing utensils, or seven points for failing to keep food at the right temperature. The lower the score, the cleaner the restaurant, with zero to 13 points earning an A, 14 to 27 points earning a B, and 28 or more points earning a C (the lowest letter grade you can get before you're shut down).
"Grade Pending" means that the restaurant got either a B or a C. The restaurant can contest the grade, and while it’s waiting for a hearing, it can post the grade it received or the “Grade Pending” sign.
But, back to this year's notably high volume of A-grades. Does it mean that NYC dining establishments are actually cleaner than they used to be? It's...unclear. First of all, health inspectors aren't always consistent with their assessments. And, as mentioned above, a lot of non-A grades aren’t initially reported, so as restaurants scramble to get their kitchens up to par while those "Grade Pending" signs are up, their true B or C scores aren't reported.
New Yorkers could see that A-grade number climb even higher soon. In 2017, City Council speaker Corey Johnson introduced a new law that would keep minor violations from affecting a restaurant’s final score, although it hasn't been reviewed since last December.