Metro Health: Posting health inspection letter grades should be required at restaurants

Letter grades (A, B, C) placards currently optional to display

The Metropolitan Health District is looking into options for making restaurant health safety score displays mandatory.
The Metropolitan Health District is looking into options for making restaurant health safety score displays mandatory.

SAN ANTONIO – Like a kid sent home with a bad report card, San Antonio restaurants could no longer have the option of hiding away their low health inspection grades.

The San Antonio Metro Health District is recommending restaurants be required to post letter grades on their front doors or windows, showing the average score of their past four inspections. The recommendation would require council approval, which could come as soon as December. 

If approved, there would be a three-month education period, and implementation would happen in April. Council members could also choose a different option for how the posted grades would be determined or where they would be displayed.

While letter grade placards have been around in San Antonio since 2016, they've been optional to display. Food establishments have to post their full inspection reports in public view, but putting up a placard with their most recent letter grade and the numbered score has been at each restaurant's discretion.

Metro Health Assistant Director Mario Martinez said the letter grades are easier to see, are universally understood and are a best practice.

"So really the premise is public health, safety and transparency to the public," Martinez told reporters Wednesday after presenting the plan to the San Antonio City Council. "And so, we showed over historically — the last four years — food establishments are already improving their performance. And that shows in their grades. And so, what we're saying is the next level is to then showcase that work by having those placards on their front doors, windows." 

Most restaurants are scoring high already, according to Martinez's presentation, which showed 88% of establishments are getting an A grade. 

Even then, Martinez said that based on what health inspectors see, only about 60% of the establishments that get A grades post them. There are very few, he said, that display a B or a C.​​​​​​​ 

Guillermo's, a restaurant on McCullough Avenue, proudly sports two placards with the restaurant's most recent score of 97 — an A. Owner Guillermo Garza believes his restaurant has posted all of its letter grades since that became a voluntary option, even the bad ones. 

To Garza, the mandatory posting of letter grades is a good idea. 

"I think transparency is a great thing, and I think restaurants have an obligation to their customers to let them know, 'Hey, this is how we've scored,' and 'Hey, we need to improve it,' or 'Hey, we're proud of what we have,'" Garza said.

Health inspection scores are based on a 100-point demerit system:

  • 100-90 = A (very good to acceptable)

  • 89-80 = B (acceptable to marginal)

  • 79-70 = C (marginal to poor)

  • Metro Health indicates that scores of 69 or lower are failing scores.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.