Teens Walk Line Between Affordability and Hygiene at Restaurants

Christina Hong, 16, admits that even though she cares a lot about the grades that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene gives out to restaurants, it’s not the first thing she notices when going out to eat.

She says she doesn’t always pay attention to the grade in the window, but if she happens to notice, she won’t step foot into a restaurant if it doesn’t have an “A” grade.

“I’m one of those people who is constantly paranoid of food poisoning,” she said.

Teenagers all over the city are having mixed responses to the restaurant grades given by the DOH. Some teenagers notice the grade and only eat at certain places, where other teenagers don’t care too much about them.

Some teenagers’ restaurant choices have changed since the DOH has required eateries to post their grades. 

Nadine Ruiz, 18, says she pays attention to grades and certificates posted by the DOH. Although she would prefer to see her “usual and favorite eating spot has a high grade,” she does not walk past a restaurant if it has a “B” grade.

“Clean and a ‘B’ grade? Sure,” she said.

In some cases it is an issue of affordability.

“I can’t always afford to eat at a place with an ‘A,’” Ruiz said.

Hong and Judith Vigliotti also said some restaurants with an “A” are more expensive than they wish, but both are willing to spend the extra money for a top-graded restaurant.

Another reason why some teenagers eat in a restaurant with a “B” grade is because it just doesn’t matter to them.

Ruiz will eat in places that say “Grade Pending,” and says her friends agree with her. One of her friends, Caleb Olvera, 16, has the same views of the DOH’s restaurant grades.

As long as the food tastes good and they can afford it, then it “doesn’t really matter” whether it has an “A” or a “B,” both Ruiz and Olvera said.

Sixteen-year-old Vigliotti at first said she doesn’t eat at a restaurant with a “Grade Pending” sign and if it looks dirty.

But Vigliotti gave the benefit of the doubt.

“Every restaurant said ‘Grade Pending’ at some point,” she said.

Vigliotti kept reviews and reputation in mind when going out to eat. Prior knowledge of whether a restaurant has good reviews or is popular helped Vigliotti make her decision.

But when she learned what a “Grade Pending” sign meant, she started changing her mind.

On the DOH website, it says a restaurant can contest the violations against them, and while they’re waiting to contest their results at the agency’s Administrative Tribunal, “the restaurant has the option to post either the preliminary grade or a card that says “Grade Pending.”

Once Viglotti learned this, she said “why would you want to hide an ‘A’ grade?” and said she would no longer be eating at a “Grade Pending” restaurant.

The DOH website also states that a restaurant with an “A” grade can have “0 to 13 points for sanitary violations.” This worried Hong, and she said that she does not even feel 100 percent comfortable with an “A” grade now.

Hong also says that even a “Grade Pending” sign is important.

“I will not go in that restaurant,” she said.

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