Compared with stats citywide, more restaurants in Chinatown receive less-than-stellar health-department-inspection grades, Crain’s reports. And in a neighborhood with approximately 300 establishments and a large population of residents below the poverty line who rely on healthy businesses, it’s a toss-up over what’s generally more detrimental to restaurant owners, the time and energy it takes to score an A grade, or coping with the massive fines that accompany all those B- and C-level scores. Things have gotten so bad that the Chinatown Business Improvement District has offered a free workshop for proprietors looking to improve their hygienic standing, but the real question seems to be, will the outreach make a big enough difference?
Crain’s reports that part of the problem appears to be the way dirty restaurants with cluttered kitchens are perceived by neighbors. “If the kitchen is very clean, it means the restaurant is slow,” one restaurant manager says, adding that “customers know that no one is perfect.”
Much of a restaurant’s clientele is apparently even somewhat forgiving when greeted with B- and C-grade placards in front windows — even though Bloomberg himself would prefer that you turn and run. While fines can reach up to $10,000 a year for a C-rated eatery, owners cite confusion over inspection protocols and rules that seem arbitrary. “It’s not worth it to fight sometimes,” says one.
As a result, the City Council’s planned inspection reforms may hit at just the right moment. But at the end of the day, the grade-shaming approach — where news of a bad score is carried over the airwaves of social media and is otherwise amplified on blogs — just may not be as effective in Chinatown as it is in the rest of the city. “Most restaurants are afraid of bad Yelp reviews or Twitter posts,” a consultant tells Crain’s. “But social media is not generally relevant in those communities.”