San Francisco is named number one for many things, including “America’s Best City” in 2012 by Bloomberg. The city has pioneered another first, this time in collaboration with Yelp, which is headquartered there: the first to get its restaurant health inspection scores onto the website.
Mayor Ed Lee is set to make the official announcement Thursday in Washington D.C. at the Winter Conference of Mayors. The inspection scores are public data, but the mayor said it’s been difficult to find specific restaurant information on the city’s Department of Public Health website.
Yelp engineers worked with city leaders and employees in San Francisco and in New York City to create a system that allows cities’ restaurant inspection scores to be relayed onto the businesses’ profile pages. The number now sits atop the list of business characteristics, from hours of operation to whether it’s good for kids. Click on that number (out of 100) and it will take you to a second Yelp page that provides the dates and kinds of inspections, as well as the number and details of the violations.
Stephanie Ichinose, a Yelp spokesperson, said the goal was “to help create more transparency for this type of information that consumer tax dollars are already paying for.” Ichinose added that another benefit would be to raise the bar for food quality. She cited a Los Angeles County food grading program in the late-90s that revealed “the incidents of food-borne illnesses as reported by hospitals dropped by 13-percent year over year.”
For the restaurant industry, there needs to be a focus on putting the numbers into context. “It’s difficult to take something out of context and understand what that number score really reflects. Often you may have a five-point drop or 95 on your score – that’s actually an excellent score for the health department,” Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, explained. “The only problem may have been that you had weathering on a seal in your fridge, never causing any sort of hazard but something that should be replaced. You’ll get dinged for that, so having the consumers really understand what those ratings mean is really important.”
Pete Sittnick is managing partner for both Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse on The Embarcadero. At Epic Wednesday night, he said the restaurant has had perfect health inspection scores of 100 for the last few years. Even then, Sittnick said he’s concerned about how the numbers may misrepresent businesses.
“With a restaurant, you’re dealing with a lot of equipment, especially in the kitchen. It could be something the restaurant’s aware of, maybe they already called somebody out to fix it, maybe the repairman is on the way that day. But that would be a deduction on a health score and I really don’t feel like that’s fair, especially if the restaurant is on top of it, knows it, and is getting it fixed.” Sittnick insisted that restaurants would then be waiting for a re-evaluation in order to correct their health scores.
But Yelpers NBC Bay Area spoke with in San Francisco said there’s no doubt that more information for them, especially when it comes to this, the better.
“It’s good that you know if the food you get is clean or somewhat dirty, helps me make a better decision,” said Siriwong Wongthonserm.
For Anna Killgore, also from San Francisco, it will matter but not quite as much. “It will definitely deter me from something that had a negative review. I probably won’t seek it out because I care more about the experience than the food quality, but I do think there will be some number shock. Numbers always shock people!”
The new Yelp service is set to roll out in New York City in a few weeks, followed by Philadelphia.