The Truth Behind Restaurant Health Inspections

The Truth Behind Restaurant Health Inspections

So you’re on your way to dinner, and as you approach the restaurant, you see the dreaded Grade Pending sign hanging in the window. Should you turn back? Abandon all hope? Frantically get on Resy and pray there’s a decent opening in a few hours? Fortunately, it’s none of those things. Let’s talk about what this sign really means.

Note: all facts and figures are based on the New York State inspection infrastructure.

What is it?

This grade reflects a completed inspection from the Department of Health (DOH), which happens twice a year for most establishments. A letter grade (A, B, C) is assigned to a restaurant after a health inspection, which they legally must post after receiving.

What does it mean?

A health inspection, compiled of roughly 100 checkpoints of food safety—ranging from posting CPR signs in prominent locations, to food storage, to sanitation stations in the kitchen—all correspond to a numerical amount. A restaurant needs to receive fewer than 14 points on this checklist inspection in order to receive an A grade. A B or C grade can be contested, and restaurants must pay fines associated with those lower grades.

Some of the biggest fines include:

  • Cold food item held above 41°F. (7 points)
  • Hot food item not held at or above 140°F. (7 points)
  • Wiping cloths soiled or not stored in sanitizing solution. (5 points)

Tinier fines are things such as:

  • “Wash hands” sign not posted at hand-wash facility. (2 points)
  • Accurate thermometer not provided in refrigerated or hot holding equipment. (2 points)

So, if a restaurant receives just a few of those bigger violations, they’re automatically ineligible for an A grade.

From Our Shop

Why is a restaurant’s grade pending?

  • A re-inspection is needed: A restaurant has two tries to get an A on an inspection. If, the first time, an A (fewer than 14 points) isn’t achieved, the inspector agrees to return in about a month’s time for a re-inspection.

  • The restaurant is fighting the fines: After a restaurant is issued their fines—either after accepting the first inspection, or on re-inspection—they can pay them, or in some cases, contest or ‘cure’ the fines. For these examples, the DOH will wait to issue the letter grade until the fees are paid or waved, or in cases where a violation needs to be shown as cured (or fixed/repaired), a grade pending sign will be given in the interim.

  • The restaurant is waiting for their letter grade certificate to arrive: This one’s pretty straightforward. The grade is in, the restaurant is just waiting for the paperwork to clear.


A Grade Pending sign in the window can mean a number of things, from an imminent inspection to simply awaiting new signage. All of that is to say, there’s no need to avoid a restaurant because of this. In fact, a restaurant with a DOH sign like this demonstrates that they take health code seriously, and because they’re still in health code limbo, the restaurant will most likely be the cleanest and most stringent about following food safety guidelines than any other time in the year.