Grading in Restaurant Hygiene Inspections: Repeated Interactions Between Inspectors and Restaurateurs

Grading in Restaurant Hygiene Inspections: Repeated Interactions Between Inspectors and Restaurateurs

By
Balázs Kovács, David Lehman, Glenn R. Carroll
Food Policy. September
2020

Restaurant hygiene grading schemes are considered exemplars of targeted transparency policies. We investigate the impact of an administrative design feature found in many schemes: repeated interactions between health inspectors and restaurateurs. Data was analyzed from 336,208 inspections of 27,119 restaurants conducted by 493 inspectors from 2000 to 2010 by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. The findings associate repeated interactions with higher public letter grades, and these grades drop with the assignment of a new inspector. Specifically, a one-unit increase in the logged number of visits by a prior inspector is associated with a 71% increased chance the restaurant will be downgraded to a lower letter grade upon the arrival of a new inspector. Exploiting an inspection protocol change in 2007, we also find that inspectors with more repeated visits to a restaurant are more likely to code a higher number of compliant rules as “Not Observed,” thereby possibly avoiding potential violations and corresponding penalties. Analysis of subsequent consumer complaints filed with the local health department shows that a one-unit increase in repeated inspector-restaurateur interactions is associated with an 10% increase in the likelihood of a consumer complaint, suggesting a public health impact. Coupled with prior evidence, the study demonstrates that administrative and design features of targeted transparency policies can impact the information provided to the public and potentially affect health outcomes.