Overzealous NYC Health Department Inspections Frustrate Restaurant Owners

New York City Health Department inspectors have long held a reputation for being overzealous, costing restaurants thousands of dollars in fines for minute violations each time they drop in for an inspection.

Our New York City restaurant lawyers are committed to aggressively fighting these violations – which can be for something as simple an open window or cans that are dented.

In fact, health inspection fines involving restaurants have actually shot up 180 percent in the last six years, from a total of $16 million collected in 2006 to approximately $45 million collected last year.  Critics have been quite vocal about the fact that it all has less to do with food safety for consumers and more to do with revenue for the city.

It’s gotten so bad that one celebrity chef garnered headlines recently for reportedly installing hidden alarms, pressed by hostesses, to alert his kitchen workers when inspectors arrive so they could swiftly toss any meals they are working on and simply walk out of the kitchen. Without staffers or meals, a restaurant is far less likely to be cited for an infraction, which frequently involves food workers not following rules to the exact letter or dishes held at improper temperatures. (Note: This maneuver isn’t recommended, as it would likely result in a 28-point violation for obstruction, which could result in a restaurant being closed.)

In fact, Di Sara’s (formerly Mauro’s) in New Dorp Beach was closed late last year for an “obstruction” charge, after a worker reportedly copped an attitude with an unexpected inspector when the owners weren’t present. It cost the business a month-long closing and some $10,000 in fines.

There are, however, some interesting developments from the city. Council is slated either later this month or in early March to take a closer look at the Health Department’s updated letter grading system, implemented in 2010. So far, some 1,000 restaurant owners across the city have responded to a survey in advance of that hearing.

What has especially drawn attention is the fact that although the number of “A” gradings has gone up, so too have the number of fines. That appears to defy logic – and further fuels speculation that this program is more a cash cow for the city than anything else.

But for now, these are the rules by which restaurants must abide. It’s important for restaurants to keep the following information in mind:

The A, B or C letter grades are essentially a summary of your sanitary inspection score. If you either don’t post the grading card or post it improperly, that alone could be considered a serious violation, with fines of up to $1,000 and repeated violations resulting in loss of your permit.

Grades or grade pending cards have to be posted either on a front window, door or outside wall that may be easily spotted by passersby.

Restaurants are required to post this grade just as soon as inspectors provide it.

If you receive a notice of violation, you have the right to a hearing by the Administrative Tribunal. If you receive this notice, your first call needs to be to an experienced restaurant lawyer. We can help you determine the best course of action.

The Wright Law Firm is a business law firm located in Midtown Manhattan. Call (212) 619-1500 for a confidential consultation.

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