Restaurant Grading is Difficult to Find and Understand

restaurant kitchen

In my last blog, I discussed the importance of restaurant grading in improving food safety and reducing food borne illness. While many municipalities and states post grades, the data can be difficult to find. Some of the data is variably housed on a city, county, regional, or state website. The team at Dr. Stueven’s Dining Grades have spent countless hours looking for these very important links. Unfortunately, some states and/or large municipalities apparently believe this to be confidential data and don’t display it. If you are choosing a place to dine in familiar territory, you may have a better idea what the food safety grades are, but if you are traveling and want to find a food safety rating from an unknown municipality site, it can be considerably harder!

We believe there is a better way to share food safety data.

If you are successful in finding the websites you are searching for, you will find there are dozens of variations in how the data is presented. Some require multiple clicks to find the type of restaurant you are looking for. Some sites are intuitive and easy to enter a request, other sites require search selection parameters like grade, score, violations, cuisine, name, address. Some sites provide a map, others do not. Some require download of a pdf to review the violations. Still with me?

If you are persistent, you may find the restaurant or cuisine you are searching for. We have found at least 17 different rating variations and within those systems, multiple additional subcategories. Some municipalities provide a score, some give the number of demerits, some a letter grade; some give the number of total violations, number of critical violations, non critical violations, priority violations, priority foundation violations, core violations; some use pass, fail, satisfactory, unsatisfactory, marginal, needs improvement, excellent, very good, good, poor, fair, etc. Understanding the scoring schemes, in some cases, may require a PHD. Given up yet?

We believe there should be a standardized grading system.

We suspect most people give up the search for food safety grades on municipality websites. This critical data is likely not used in daily decision-making when choosing a place to dine. While it is important to share the data, if a municipality wants the consumer to access and use that data, we support the idea that it needs to be universally displayed so the average computer/internet savvy person can easily find and understand it.

Does posting the grade in the restaurant solve the problem? Yes and No.

As noted in my previous blog, some municipalities require posting of the grade. So when it is posted it helps. The public notices grades in the extreme. A Stanford University economist found that, “establishments earning an A obtained an average of 5.7 percent higher revenue than before the grade cards were required. B grade restaurants experienced a 0.7 percent increase. For C grade restaurants revenue decreased by 1 percent” (Economist Finds, 2004). So while restaurants with A grades likely proudly do so, others not surprisingly may, choose to comply with the law in ways that the posting is difficult to find.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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