Code words, fake orders and frustration at NYC restaurants over grading system

When it comes to eating out in New York City, letters matter. 

Because of that, some restaurants in New York City are going to extreme lengths to make sure they get an “A” grade from the health inspector.

According to an article from, restaurants use code words, fake orders and all manner of other schemes to deal with a visit from the Department of Health. And stature doesn’t matter either, according to the piece, everyone from neighborhood watering holes to Michelin-starred restaurants have their own strategies to look as good as possible on inspection day.

“A lot of restaurants and bars employ very creative, sometimes comical tactics to tip off employees that a health inspector has arrived,” said Saxon Baird, a freelance journalist who wrote the article “Inside the Elaborate Schemes Restaurants Use to Survive Health Inspections” for

Saxon says that he did not find that restaurants were violating the health code, but instead found restaurant owners frustrated with the health department’s grading system and trying to figure out how to avoid getting downgraded. 

“What I found was that there’s a gross lack of consistency from one health inspection to the next,” Saxon said.

Prior to the current letter grade system, the city used to simply pass or fail a restaurant based on its cleanliness and safety for customers, which some restaurant owners say they’d like to return to. 

However, the New York City Health Department defended the letter grading system, telling FOX 5 NY in a statement: “The NYC Health Department is committed to helping restaurants and food service operators achieve ‘A’ grades. Currently, more than 90% of restaurants are displaying ‘A’ grades.”