Editorial: Lower restaurant fines, but keep A-B-C grades
Is there anything New Yorkers can agree on? Calmly? Without a noisy back-and-forth that morphs into a human maelstrom of table-banging, vein-popping fury?
Actually, yes. A Quinnipiac University poll last year found that an amazing 82 percent of city voters liked the letter grades the city's Department of Health puts on everything from five-star restaurants to street-corner diners.
Only 14 percent disliked the system, which relies on a grade of A, B or C -- posted on front doors for all the world to see. We're guessing that most of this 14 percent was involved in the city's restaurant industry.
But in fact, the restaurateurs have some legitimate gripes about the size of the fines they've faced. They also have a feeling they're easy targets for a bureaucracy that's always on the hunt for easily collected revenues.
So we're pleased to know that Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council have reached an agreement with the Department of Health to rein in fines while keeping the city's letter-grade system intact.
This means an owner won't be killed financially should the city find, say, improperly stored sanitized utensils in a surprise inspection. That fine currently averages $300 a pop. The deal also lessens penalties now averaging $350 to $420 a pop for critical violations -- say, for having four or more workers without hair covers near food preparation.
The changes are fair enough -- given that owners will also be slapped with a possible public letter downgrade that could certainly drive away customers. The goal is to make owners fix things -- not drive them out of business.
Anyone who's ever had to pay a $100-plus parking ticket for leaving the car in front of the apartment building for a few minutes while loading up for an afternoon of errands knows the city's game. Dealing with agencies that depend in large part on revenue from fines can be maddening.
The health department will now revise its restaurant fines. But we should still pay special attention to the letter on the door. It remains your best hint about sanitary conditions inside. And it remains the biggest fear to operators who don't care about food safety.