Monday, March 1, 2010

Good Days, Harsh Days for Restaurant Scores

Posted by on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 7:06 AM

Good restaurant scores are like a pat on everyone's back: The restaurant is caught doing the right thing, and diners feel good that they made a safe, clean choice of restaurant. It was a good week in the restaurant score business. Virago had a 98, Broadway Brewhouse scored 97, Mambu got a 98, At the Table, 95; Christie's Cabaret, 98; Germantown 98; DrinkHaus 97; TJ's BBQ & Fish 92; South Street Tree house 100; and a perfect 100 for Pie Wagon.

click to enlarge burger_n_restaurant_20scores.jpg

Health department inspection scores and food quality aren't always linked -- Bitesters and Scenesters had good food at a taco wagon in 2008 whose posted score was in the 50s. And yet we lived.

The reason for the low score is important. The taco wagon was heavily penalized for not having the required double sink. To be sure, a double sink is best, but it's possible to clean well without one. Another common violation is workers' beverages in the food prep area -- not a great idea, but not especially disgusting or worrying.

On the other hand, if the violation involves meat held at the wrong temperature, or workers not washing their hands, that's cause for concern.

A recent crop of health department scores featured a lot of low scores, really unusual for the past year. A well-known Mediterranean place scored 68, a clean, a well-run Asian eatery scored 65, a fine barbecue establishment turned up a 58, and a respectable and popular chain restaurant with high standards and a good training program scored just 68.

In a climate of abundant, well-trained restaurant personnel who know and follow the rules, the rash of low scores is head scratcher. Months pass without a single score in the 70s, so there were a lot of questions for the Metro health department: Is there a new inspector who's especially passionate about enforcing rules? Are there tough new rules? New enforcement guidelines?

No, no, and no, according to the receptionist at the restaurant inspection division. Same rules, same forms, same inspectors. Many of the low scorers have already been reinspected and received high scores the second time around. We'll keep an eye out for any future odd trends.

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