Chow Bella

Should Restaurants Be Required to Post Health Letter Grades?

Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail [email protected] Miss a question? Go here.

A recent Zagat survey revealed 81 percent of diners nationwide support restaurants being required to post their health department letter grades (the state of Arizona shows 73 percent in favor of it.). In major cities, the majority of diners say letter grades influence their dining decisions and that they will eat only at restaurants that earn a B or better. What do Valley restaurant owners and chefs have to say about it? Here's a few of their answers:

Pavle Milic Owner, FnB

YES: Good practices should be rewarded. I think it provides an added value to a diner. In terms of accountability, I won't go into a restaurant that has a negative mark.

Lenard Rubin Chef and owner, The Vig

NO: Some of the violations don't accurately reflect the sanitary quality of the establishment. For example, not having the correct consumer advisory printed on your menu or even a small menu insert will net you a big point deduction. You could get a B, C, or even a D and not have a violation that would affect the sanitary environment that the restaurant's food is prepared in.

Chef de Cuisine Akos Szabo, Top of the Rock Restaurant at the Buttes Resort

I'm on the fence with this issue because I have worked in cities where inspectors are literally or politically bribed into giving a restaurant a better grade than they were due, but I understand it means a lot to consumers to know they are dining in a facility that showcases a grade in the window. I have eaten at A-graded restaurants that should have been D's.

Chef Cullen Campbell, Crudo

YES: I think it's a great idea to post health letter grades. It would make me feel better every time I eat at a Filiberto's, but I would still probably eat there anyway because of my addiction to fast food.

Eric Flatt Co-owner, Tonto Bar & Grill and Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House

NO: Most food poisoning results from the producers or growers of the food. Rarely do you have issues with the restaurants. Yes, it is possible, but who in their right mind wants to chance serving a bad food item only to get the guest sick, refund their money, lose a customer and have them tell everyone what happened?

Chef Jason Alford Roka Akor

YES: Every member of a restaurant needs to be accountable for ensuring every guest has a safe dining experience. Every time. There are no exceptions.

Dana Mule GM and partner, Hula's Modern Tiki

Yes and no. Everyone has a right to know if the places they eat are abiding by the current health code. The issue as a restaurant is that the posting of a letter grade does not tell the whole story. On our last inspection, we got a "critical violation" for having a sealed bag of ice touching the freezer floor and another because the light bulb in the freezer was burned out. Our freezer is 48 inches x 48 inches, and when you open it, the full bank of fluorescent lights right above it fully illuminate the icy interior. By utilizing that word without context, you'd think we stored our fish on the kitchen floor.

Chef Charles Schwerd, Arrowhead Grill

YES: L.A. County does it and it's proved to be a quick and easy reference for patrons to evaluate the cleanliness of the restaurant.

Brent Shinyeda General manager, BLD

NO: At least until the Health Department has a better grasp on how these letter grades are given and has educated the public. Our inspection was on Friday of the first week of these letter grades being in effect. According to our inspector, only one restaurant that he inspected over the course of the week would have received an A. Too many people are familiar with the California grading system. There, if a restaurant gets a B grade, it could be the death of them. Here, a B grade would be perfectly acceptable, but no one knows that.

What say you, diners? Should Valley restaurants be required to post health letter grades? Would you make your dining decisions based on them?

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld