Get Ready for Cleanliness Grades at Boston-Area Restaurants

Next year, the city will roll out a rating system to display local establishments' food safety practices.

Boston restaurant inspection grades

NEW YORK – APRIL 3: Sanitary Inspection Grade posted in a window of Shake Shack in New York, New York on April 3, 2012. Such signs are displayed in all restaurants. / Photo via Shutterstock

City officials are planning to make understanding restaurants’ health conditions as easy as A, B, C—quite literally.

Boston inspectors are launching a pilot program to simplify health ratings into a three-tiered grading system, the Boston Globe reported. Rolling out early next year, the system will use data the city’s inspectors already collect to assign a letter grade—A, B, or C—to all Boston restaurants and food-service vendors. At first, this information will be posted online, but eventually, the city will require these grades to be displayed publicly in storefronts.

“This is meant to allow us to work with restaurants,” said William Christopher, head of the department that will oversee the program, Inspectional Services. Currently, most food-service establishments are inspected annually, or in response to a food safety-related complaint.

When the new program is in place, restaurants that receive a B or C rating will be reinspected within 30 days, according to the Globe. If the second look shows the violations have been taken care of, the city-assigned grade would bump up to reflect it. But if the violations stand, the restaurant would be stuck with its scarlet letter until the next routine inspection.

Other cities have implemented similar rating systems, including New York, Los Angeles, and recently, Newton, the Globe reported. Christopher said other city officials have seen the practice reduce health violations, improve public awareness about food safety, and boost business for restaurants by increasing competition for owners to keep cleaner stores.

“Everyone wants to be an A rating, so it motivates restaurateurs,” Christopher told the paper.

The president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, Bob Luz, told the Globe he fears the new system could oversimplify results of the city’s inspections, which are already shared in detail online.

Christopher countered the new system will be more easily digestible for consumers.

“The inspection process and the way that happens now will not be changing … [and] this is not about creating violations. It’s about creating a really good positive environment for our city,” he said.

Look for letter grades to start being assigned to restaurants as early as January.