A look at New York DOH restaurant grades

A look at New York DOH restaurant grades

These days I struggle to find inspiration in food blogging. Most of the time I just want to eat and figuring out where to eat has become tedious. My slogan is a take on Nike’s. Just eat it. Hell sometimes I don’t even want to take pictures. Instead of talking about food, let’s talk about bureaucracy today. Taking a cue from the NYTimes coverage of “What’s in an A?” I figure it’s a good opportunity to dig into the numbers that the DOH have accumulated. To start, I decided to look at the data as of Feb 9th, 2011. I can tell you that the DOH updates their website daily with grades so this stuff changes all the time. So out of the 8,891 restaurants in the DOH database for restaurant grades in Manhattan, I looked at the breakdown for American cuisine versus some other popular cuisines. I’m happy to report that Chinese food has the lowest percentage of A’s when compared to American, French, and Italian cuisine. You might be curious why I excluded other popular cuisines such as Japanese or Mexican, and my best answer is that I’m lazy. What I can tell you is that based on the information in the DOH database, the top ten types of restaurants based on count are:

  1. American (3464)
  2. Chinese (535)
  3. Cafe’s/Coffee/Tea (515)
  4. Italian (478)
  5. Pizza (382)
  6. Japanese (361)
  7. Latin (258)
  8. Sandwiches (251)
  9. Mexican (180)
  10. Hamburgers (168)

Now I would normally count hamburgers as part of American food but I guess they’re an independent cuisine type according to the NYC Department of Health. Most of you would be happy to know that ‘Cupcakes’ actually are not a group on their own. I can tell you the grouping is odd. There’s Italian (478), Pizza (382), and Pizza/Italian (85). What makes those 85 restaurants ‘Pizza/Italian’ is beyond me. They also categorize incorrectly at Times. As of the time of this writing, they listed Picholine as a Chinese restaurant that was last inspected on December 22, 2010 and got a score of 36. Thanks for bringing my people down, Terrance!! haha, it’s ok.

The restaurant grades assign an A for scores between 0-13 inclusive, a B for 14-27 inclusive, and anything over 28 is a C. The NYTimes story that I linked to earlier exposed how there are a lot more restaurants with a 13 score and received an A than there are of restaurants that got a 14 and received a B. They theorized that’s because restaurants would accept an A because it’s the highest grade, but ask for a reinspection if they get a 14, since they’re so close to getting an A. The numbers in the data tells us that this happens between B and C as well. As you can see in the bar chart, you have way more restaurants with grades 25, 26, or 27 (521 restaurants) than restaurants with 28, 29, or 30 (97 restaurants). Make of that what you will but I think the way restaurants would dispute an almost-A is the same thing happening to restaurants with an almost-B.

The data also tells us that the NYC DOH is ramping up on how many restaurants they inspect. July of 2010 is when they implemented the new rules and they inspected a 2010 low of 78 restaurants. Since then, they have increated the number of restaurants inspected every single month. August 2010 saw 416 inspections and by December of 2010, we had 1270 restaurants inspected. January 2011 saw that trend continue as they inspected 1312 restaurants, a 13 month high.

There are other numbers that I could inspect better if I only paid attention to statistics my junior year of HIGH SCHOOL. Damn it’s been a long ass time since then. Something that we as consumers want to look at is breakdown of grades between restaurant types. I don’t even mean cuisine types. Restaurant type would be the difference in complexity of keeping a sandwich shop clean or a ‘Juice, Smoothies, Fruit Salad’ restaurant clean. Those restaurants must be more simple to keep clean than a full service restaurant. The grades do not take that into account. In the ‘Juice, Smoothies, Fruit Salad’ group, we have 39 A’s, 15 B’s, and 2 C’s. That means C’s are just 3% of the restaurants in that group. When we look at the ‘Sandwiches’ group, we see 251 restaurants, with 73% A’s and 4% C’s. It’s only normal that as complexity of an operation increases, the potential for more violations increase as well. This might include more employees who might fuck up or more places in the kitchen that need to follow requirements.

I like the DOH restaurant grades. Many foodies or food enthusiasts in New York do not. I know it’s not perfect. Letting perfect get in the way of good is not how progress is made. Clearly the DOH needs to really talk about how certain rules are violations. Artisanal mozzarella makers note that the rules won’t allow them to make fresh mozzarella without breaking the rules. What really needs to happen is more evidence that particular rules actually make a difference. Progress is always a good thing, so I hope these restaurant grades become more effective for New Yorkers.

Posted by Danny on February 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm

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