Signs in Seattle: Restaurant inspection disclosure

Dine Safe King County came out of Sarah Schacht’s public advocacy for posted restaurant inspection scores. Her successful petition to King County for posted inspection scores caused King County to start a stakeholder committee process to provide suggestions for restaurant inspection score design and a new rating system. At the end of months on the committee, Sarah was disappointed to find she was the only member of the public on the committee, and saw a need for public feedback on and testing of restaurant inspection scores and signs.

rest.inspec.grade.louisvilleReaching out to University of Washington’s Human Centered Design Department, Sarah recruited graduate students and undergrads in their senior year to leverage their education in user research to implement a usability study/user research study. WSU’s Prof. Susie Craig a specialist in public health, mentored the research team and reviewed their work.

King County, Washington, will implement restaurant inspection score signs in late 2015 to early 2016. This transparency and public health project will be a first in our region, but in other municipal areas, like Toronto, inspection score signs at restaurants have been around for over a decade. Some research suggests these signs bring down overall cases of food poisoning, by as much as 30%.

King County will implement scores by early 2016, with most input of sign design coming from restaurant owners and government employees. We are a group of UW students working to involve a variety of King County residents in the design process of this tool for public health, through the use of a usability study.

Questions or comments about this study? You can contact the team communications lead, Leilani Esther at

Key Report Findings

Key findings from our research are:

  • An average rating isn’t easily understood and raised more questions than it answered.
  • Participants wanted to see the inspection scores and dates that went into determining the average.
  • Participants questioned the value of including older scores, particularly when considering staff turnover and changes in management and/or ownership.
  • Participants stressed that they were most interested in the most recent inspection score.
  • Participants felt that a rating system that used stars looked too much like customer ratings, or some kind of award for the restaurant. It was the least popular in our survey results and focus groups.
  • A pass/fail rating system didn’t provide enough information. Participants wanted to know how much a restaurant passed or failed by.

Participants highlighted the importance of dates regardless of the rating system; of particular importance to them was when the inspection took place and when the rating was posted.