A cheer went up the other night at James, a popular Brooklyn bistro, as a triumphant waiter marched into the retro-tinged dining room bearing the new gold star of the New York City restaurant trade: a framed, blue letter “A.”
As diners applauded, the waiter placed the letter grade in the restaurant’s front window — and removed the orange “B” that had been there for three worrying months.
Nineteen months after the Bloomberg administration began issuing letter grades to the city’s 24,000 restaurants, the bright “A,” “B” and “C” signs have become commonplace and polarizing presences, embraced by discerning customers but despised by restaurateurs who say the grades are handed out in unfair and inconsistent ways.
On Wednesday, the restaurant inspection program is to face its first full-fledged vetting by the City Council, whose members have expressed concern about the effects the grades have on small businesses and the increasing number of fines for sanitary violations issued by the health department.
Not to be upstaged, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg scheduled a news conference of his own on Tuesday to defend the inspection program, one of the more high-profile initiatives he has initiated in a rocky third term.
At Zero Otto Nove, a stalwart trattoria in the Bronx, Mr. Bloomberg sought to pre-empt criticism by citing statistics showing an uptick in restaurant revenue and a reduction in salmonella infections since the grading system began in 2010. He denounced critics as “people that complain because they don’t want to keep their restaurants clean.”
“They think it’s O.K. to have mice and roaches and dirt and not have people wash their hands before they come back from the bathroom,” the mayor said, his voice rising. “That’s just simply unacceptable, and their complaints are going to fall on deaf ears, I can tell you that. We’re not going to change."
Notice the mayor calls critics of this reductionist system filthy f%^&*ing pigs.
That's kinda how he treats critics of the school grading system and the new evaluation system too.
There are no legitimate complaints about Bloomberg - you either agree with him or your a filty f%^&*ing pig.
As for the rating system, there are plenty of problems with it.
First, not all "bad restaurants" are treated equally in Bloombergville:
For health officials, the Council’s hearing came at an inopportune moment. The New York Post reported over the weekend that Per Se, consistently rated among the city’s best restaurants, had avoided a “B” grade with a telephone call to a city official, in which the restaurant successfully argued that the inspection report had contained errors.
City Hall officials quickly pointed out that several dozen restaurants, of varying degrees of prestige, had taken the same route to contest alleged violations and avoid a protracted adjudication process. Mr. Bloomberg, at his news conference on Tuesday, referred to any suggestion of undue influence as “an outrage.”
“It’s just so unfair,” the mayor said. “No wonder sometimes it’s just so hard for everybody to keep working in this city and trying to do what’s right.”
Sure, it's unfair when people criticize the mayor for allowing this kind of fine-fixing to go on.
Except that's what he has done - both for restaurants and for tickets.
And it's unfair, too, that a restaurant can get a bad rating for a whole bunch of things that maybe they shouldn't get a bad rating for:
Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Quinn agreed on Tuesday that the grading system provided diners with more access to information, but some restaurant owners argued that the grading system was far too blunt and was frequently based on relatively minor issues.
“It could be a cracked toilet cover; it could be a gap around a pipe,” said Peter Hansen, the director of operations at Benchmarc Restaurants, which owns several expensive dining establishments in the city.
“But,” Mr. Hansen added, “what your customer is thinking is: old tuna.”
Elizabeth Meltz, who oversees food safety at Mario Batali’s Italian restaurants, said that she supported a grading system and that it could improve public health.
But, echoing other restaurant workers, she said some city health inspectors seemed inconsistent in their standards, asking about certain elements of the kitchen on some visits and not on others. Sometimes, the inspectors appeared unfamiliar with complex dishes like terrine and kimchi, Ms. Meltz said, and on one occasion, she believed that an inspector was disrespectful to her because of her gender.
Nothing like getting a bad rating because the inspector isn't familiar with the dishes - or he had to sit on a cracked toilet seat.
It seems everybody in this city gets letter grades these days that have huge financial implications for them - except for Bloomberg, of course.
He is above letter grades.
And term limits.