On the popular Food Network show "Restaurant Impossible," hosted by Robert Irvine, diners get a peek into the back of the house, where the restaurant's food is made. In some cases, the kitchen is so unclean that Irvine has to close the restaurant down. After watching the show, you may have begun wondering how safe the kitchens in your favorite restaurants are.
But how can you determine the quality of a restaurant's kitchen if you cannot see it? Thanks to the restaurant grading system in Los Angeles County, California diners can rely on the Health Department to vet local restaurants they are considering visiting.
How Does the System Work?
The County of Los Angeles Public Health Department adopted its restaurant grading system in 1998. A grade card is issued to each restaurant at the end of a routine inspection. The grades are based on scores: A for 90-100, B for 80-89 and C for 70-79. Instead of a grade for less than 70, the restaurant is given a number. Restaurants that score below 70 twice in one year are subject to closure, as is any restaurant that is tagged with a major violation.
"The Health Department gives you a 'fix-it' ticket for any major violations," said Eddie Amezcua, manager of Truxton's American Bistro in Westchester, California. "When the inspector returns, they look to see that the errors are fixed, and then a new score is given."
Amezcua said he feels the system is fair and is another "set of eyes" to see anything restaurant owners may have missed. All employees follow guidelines and protocols set by ServSafe, and managers are certified on ServSafe.
Anyone can look up the score for a particular restaurant on the County of Los Angeles Public Health website. Truxton's American Bistro received a score of 91 on Aug. 5, 2013. The inspector is required to make sure each facility complies with 111 items on the report. Factors range from food temperature and pest control to food storage to how clean restrooms are.
How Do Diners Use These Rankings?
Some diners pay attention to the reviews on websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat or recommendations from friends when choosing a restaurant; others find that these reviews don't mean anything and believe the deck is stacked.
With these guidelines in place for more than 15 years, would diners eat at any restaurant that has scored less than an A? Answers varied from "absolutely not," "doesn't matter," "forgot to look" and "would not choose based on a letter."
"I look at reviews first," said Kelly Page, a restaurant reviewer who blogs for Tasting Page. "I have eaten at a restaurant with a B when it is in an ethnic neighborhood, but never a C. It's nice to have multiple checks and balances. ... [It's] always helpful to have one more piece of information when deciding where to eat."
Perhaps diners have taken this system for granted, but as a restaurant owner, you are always going to strive for the A — and that has definitely benefited diners in Los Angeles County.
Photo credit: Fresh Food in a Flash