NYC Nudge

Welcome to Close to the Edge – 2013!

On a recent holiday/birthday trip to New York City, I began to notice many of these signs in the windows of restaurants as my girlfriend and I walked around Manhattan:

Now, I’m not particularly familiar with the practices of various sanitation departments, but after doing a little research online, it appears this system of displaying sanitation grades is an excellent nudge implemented by the city.

Previously, sanitation ratings for restaurants in New York City were scored on a “Pass/Fail” system. Now, the city scores on an “A/B/C” scale. But more importantly, under the previous regime, scores were maintained in a database online, and on a small certificate often behind the front counter of the restaurant. The move to the “A/B/C” scale was accompanied by a requirement that restaurants display their grades (using the appropriate sign as above) in a window facing outward and toward the street.

While some avid restaurant-goers or overly health conscious diners may go online to research their restaurant before they go out, the average diner likely wouldn’t. And a certificate behind the counter is probably only noticeable as diners pay their bill or exit the restaurant. So,while data concerning the level of sanitation at New York City restaurants was publicly available under the old system, in all likelihood, most diners were not very informed about the scores restaurants received.

But information in the hands of the public can serve as an important incentive for dirty restaurants to clean up their act. Therefore, by requiring restaurants to more prominently disclose their sanitation scores (and trust me, even in a bustling city, they are hard to miss while walking on the sidewalk), the city has made that information more available to potential diners. This is likely to serve as an important nudge to restaurant owners, since their sanitation grade will now be even more in the open for everyone to see!

EDIT: A couple of interesting facts here:

•a strong majority of the public (83%) support the change in grading systems;

•when a similar system of display was implemented in Los Angeles, over the course of ten years, the share of restaurants who earned an “A” grade increased from 40% to 82%!

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One comment

  1. […] discussed here, New York City has implemented a new mandate that restaurants display their sanitation grades in […]

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