New York council to hold hearing on restaurant inspection complaints

In response to restaurateurs’ complaints about the city’s 18-month-old letter-grading system, the City Council announced Tuesday that it will hold hearings on the inspection process in late February.

“I am troubled by the wave of complaints the Council has received from restaurants — even the ones that get A’s — about the fairness and inconsistency of the food safety inspection process,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn in a joint announcement with Maria del Carmen Arroyo, chairwoman of the council’s Health Committee, which has maintained oversight of the health department.

Through its Web site, the council has made available an online questionnaire for the city’s 24,000 restaurateurs because “we hope to learn more about what is and isn’t working, including whether the grading system has been implemented fairly,” Speaker Quinn said, adding: “Any initiative — especially 18 months after establishment — calls for scrutiny.”

The results of the survey — which asks about experiences with inspectors and administrative tribunals, and the costs of paying fines and restaurant consultants to minimize those fines — will be used to set the agenda of the hearings, said a council spokeswoman, Zoe Tobin.

“We look forward to discussing the letter grading program with the council,” said Susan Craig, a health department spokeswoman. “We think it’s making a real difference, and the public understands it and likes it.” She said that a survey last summer showed that 90 percent of New Yorkers approve of letter grading, and added that currently, 77 percent of city restaurants have A grades.