City to reduce some restaurant fines

A Manhattan restaurant rated with a Health Department  'A' grade. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
A Manhattan restaurant rated with a Health Department ‘A’ grade.
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The city will modify the health rating system in an effort to reduce restaurant fines, officials announced Sunday.

Sixty percent of all violations will result in the minimum $200 fine under a package of legislation that will be introduced in City Council Thursday.

“Restaurant letter grading was never supposed to be a way to generate additional fine revenue, especially since the Health Department discovered long ago that higher fines don’t by themselves result in better sanitary conditions,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement.

While restaurant violations now result in fines between $200 and $2,000, under the agreement with City Council, the Department of Health and Mental Hygine specific fine amounts for the first time.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said that the letter grading system was established to provide additional incentive to improve food-safety practices.

“At this point, moving to fixed fines will help give the system more predictability,” Farley said.

Council Member Gale Brewer, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, said the new fine system will improve the relationship between restaurants and the city.

“One of the most common complaints we receive from restaurants in regard to the current grading system is that fines are excessive, and vary wildly from inspector to inspector,” Brewer said.

The most commonly-issued violations will have a fine reduction of 15 to 50 percent, officials said.

For general and low-severity violations, such as having five flies in a food preparation area or a sewage disposal in disrepair, the fine will be set at $200.

Fines for more serious violations would also drop, officials said.

Integrity and operation violations—such as operating without a permit or tampering with a closure sign—would result in a set $1,000 fine.

Under the new guidelines, restaurants with violation points of less than 14 on their initial inspection will also not have to pay any fines for that inspection.

The fine reductions are expected to reduce total fines collected by more than $10 million per year.

Kurt Gutenbrunner, owner of TriBeCa’s Blaue Gans restaurant where the new guidelines were announced, was pleased with the upcoming changes.

“This is really exciting for news for restaurateurs as the fines have been so expensive over the last few years,” Gutenbrunner said.

In addition to lowering restaurant fines, the package of legislation also includes a bill to establish an office to investigate concerns over the inspection system. Another bill would allow restaurants to request an ungraded inspection for educational purposes.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter: @AnnaESanders


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