In addition, there are ratings given by public health agencies rating the level of sanitation practiced by an establishment. These ratings are given from a numerical scale, with 100 being a perfect score and points deducted for each violation, such as keeping food at the wrong temperature, roach/vermin/rodent infestation, failure to use NSF-certified equipment, or improper food storage. From that, a grade is often assigned.
In the United States, the Mobil Travel Guides and the American Automobile Association rate restaurants on a similar 1 to 5 star (Mobil) or Diamond (AAA) scale. Three, four, and five star/diamond ratings are roughly equivalent to the Michelin one, two, and three star ratings while one and two star ratings typically indicate more casual places to eat.
In 2005, Michelin released a New York City guide, its first for the United States- and was roundly criticized for favoring French cuisine restaurants while ignoring other excellent establishments. The popular Zagat Survey compiles consumer comments rather than relying on professional food critics, and rates restaurants on a numerical 30-point scale. Their reviews cover over 70 major markets worldwide. Other guides like RestaurantPics features restaurant and signature dish photographs, menus, and basic factual information of the top restaurants in New York City.
Nearly all major American newspapers employ restaurant critics and publish online dining guides for the cities they serve. American newspaper restaurant critics typically visit dining establishments anonymously and return several times so as to sample the entire menu. Newspaper restaurant guides, therefore, tend to provide the most thorough coverage of various cities' dining options.
With the advent of Web 2.0, new types of review websites have come about. These websites, such as FriendsEAT.com, Yelp.com, The people's UK Restaurant Guide and Chow.com have empowered regular people to generate non-expert reviews. This has sparked much criticism from restaurant establishments about the non-editorial, non-professional critiques.
On Wednesday 21st June, 2006, BBC America aired a current episode of Chef Gordon Ramsay's show, "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares". Ramsay invited an inspector to sample the cuisine at a restaurant in Inverness, Scotland. Later Ramsay invited the former president of Michelin Red to dine at the same restaurant. Though both inspectors were satisfied, Ramsay pointed out the conscientiousness of their inspections but also that inspectors' criteria are carefully guarded secrets. Ramsay stated that no one but the inspectors have the foggiest idea exactly how restaurants are rated.
Ultimately, the restaurant Ramsay went to assist was encouraged to use Scottish produce and local ingredients-- and was later reported to have earned a Michelin star.
Ramsay's show and the current controversies surrounding Michelin's guide have perhaps sharpened and improved inspection criteria. For more information, see Michelin Guide or visit Chef Gordon Ramsay's website
A top restaurant rating can mean success or failure for a restaurant, particularly when bestowed by influential sources like Michelin or the New York Times. Three stars in the Times' four-star system denotes excellent, and is a class unto itself, considerably harder to get than two- or one-stars, while its rare four-star "extraordinary" rating is typically held by fewer than a dozen of New York's 20,000 restaurants. The influence goes beyond business success; writing about former Times chief dining critic Ruth Reichl, a US food columnist noted that Reichl's reviews and star-rating "made and broke reputations and fortunes and generally influenced the direction of the city's—indeed, to a lesser degree, the country's—restaurant scene.
In 2004 Michelin came under fire in some quarters after bipolar chef Bernard Loiseau committed suicide after he was rumoured to be in danger of losing one of his three stars. However, the Michelin guide had stated he would not be downgraded. Most news reports attributed his suicide to the downgrade carried out by the rival Gault Millau guide.
Restaurant ratings for sanitation are not really new but have been the subject of greatly increased interest in recent years. In 1997, a KCBS-TV sweeps news story called Behind The Kitchen Door focused attention on problems in Los Angeles's top restaurants. The station used hidden cameras to catch restaurant employees practicing unsafe food handling practices such as picking up food from the floor and re-serving it, vermin crawling near food to be served, or mixing uncooked meat and vegetables. The report also reviewed inspection reports, which have always been public but were available only on request and required a personal visit to the health department, and found that many problems were already noted in the inspection reports but were not adequately publicized.
Public outrage resulted in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passing a "restaurant grading" ordinance similar to ordinances that had been in effect for years in California's San Diego County and Riverside County. Instead of only listing violations in a report, the restaurant inspection system was changed to a standardized scale ranking with a certain number of points deducted for each violation. Letter grades were required to be prominently posted at all establishments selling food, and all establishments were required to provide a copy of the inspection to any customer on request. Grades are also available at the County Public Health Department's web site at and RestaurantWatch
As a result of restaurant grading, sanitation has allegedly improved. Two Stanford University economics researchers found that only 25% of restaurants were performing at the "A" level in 1996, before grading was implemented. In 1998, after the report aired and the posting of grades were required, over 50% of restaurants were performing at an "A" level. However, this result may have been due to a phenomenon similar to grade inflation. Correspondingly, revenues at "A" rated restaurants increased by 5.7%, and "B" rated restaurants had increased revenues by 0.7%, while "C" rated restaurants experienced a drop in revenue by 1%. According to their study, the introduction of grade posting resulted in a 20% drop in the number of people admitted to the hospital as in-patients for certain enteric illnesses that may be food-related. One criticism of the study was that the vast majority of foodborne illness victims are not hospitalized in any event. The quality of restaurants in the entire county became more equitable, with the average score going from 74.5 to 89.8 in restaurants located in areas below the median county income, compared to 78.8 to 89.5 in restaurants located in areas above the median county income, in the year after restaurant grading was implemented.
In 2007, the average restaurant score in Los Angeles County was 93.3, up from 84.7 when the grading program began. The number of "C" restaurants dropped from 17.6% in the first six months of grading to 1.8% in 2007, and the number of restaurants receiving scores below 70 went from 11.7% in the first six months of grading to 0.2% in 2007. 84% of County residents are aware of the grading system, and 65% of them were influenced by grades always or most of the time. 91% of County residents approved of the grading system. Only 3% of respondents said they would regularly eat at "C" restaurants and 25% would regularly eat at "B" restaurants.
Sanitation grading is also found in many other locations, including the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. In some places, including Toronto, Canada and Sacramento County, California, green, yellow and red placards are used instead of letter grades.
South Carolina uses a similar system to Los Angeles. The grade is on a sticker that is stuck onto the front door of the establishment. They call "A" Excellent, "B" Acceptable, and "C" Marginal. The vast majority of establishments have grades of "A." The grades on the stickers are pre-printed, and the stickers are not changed after each inspection unless the establishment's grade changes.