Archived Opinion

Customers say restaurant grades matter

Editor’s note: Last week The Smoky Mountain News cover story was about cleanliness at restaurants and what health department inspectors look for when they grade them. As we found out by interviewing several people, most do look to see what grade a restaurant gets.

Do patrons pay attention to the health inspection ratings that are posted in restaurants? The answer is a resounding yes.

“I’ve been tempted to pull out of a drive through because of a rating,” said Summer Millican, who saw a grade of 84 posted in the window of the Sylva McDonald’s, but only after she had ordered and paid. “I got my food anyway, but I was just really kind of grossed out by that.”

Millican isn’t the only one who has been willing to consume what might be hazardous food in order to save some trouble. Steve Baker said that if he sees a low rating posted, he simply doesn’t come back a second time, rather than get up and leave.

“I usually will look and see the number, and if it’s real high or real low, I’ll take notice,” Baker said.

Baker uses the rating system in conjunction with other factors to help make his decision about where he eats. For example, some restaurants use strong smelling industrial disinfectants. While the smell may allude to cleanliness, it is unappetizing, Baker said.

Paying attention to factors other than a posted score is important, said Kelly Ray. A waitress at Duvall’s in Waynesville and a former cook, Ray recommended that diners watch their servers’ habits.

At a restaurant in Asheville, Ray saw her waitress stick her fingers in Ray’s food as she was trying to pick it up, then just smooth the dish out with a spoon to get rid of the imprints. Ray told the waitress she didn’t want the food.

Having worked in the restaurant business, Ray said she probably knows a bit more about safety and sanitation than the average customer and pays more attention to it.

“If it’s below a 90, I won’t eat there,” Ray said.

Lee Millican agreed on the less than Grade A threshold.

“My case, I think less than a 90,” he said, referring to the point at which he wouldn’t eat at a restaurant.

However, customers also say they are not always confident that the grade posted is a reflection of the restaurant. Personality and opinion may play in to a score, lowering it for some, raising it for others, customers say. Health inspectors deny any sense of favoritism; however, the perception still exists.

“There’s always the chance for corruption to take place,” Baker said.

— by Sarah Kucharski

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