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Opening Arguments

Making the grade


INDIANAPOLIS - When you go out to eat in Indiana, you can't really know if the restaurant is clean, unless you search for inspection reports online.

But that search can be time consuming, inconvenient and impractical. That's why other cities and states use a letter grading system, so when patrons walk up to a restaurant, the rating and the score are in plain sight.

In downtown Louisville, before you walk into any restaurant to eat, you can plainly see its letter grade.

Connie Mendel, Louisville's environmental health administrator, said the city has been using the placard system for more than 20 years.

"Most people understand A, B, C, but there's also more information there," she said. "There's a score, a C means they failed, an A passing, a B means they have a repeat failure history or they were closed."

The letter-grading system has the advantage of being easy to understand; anybody who has ever been to school knows about letter grades. It's why the state of Indiana started using letter grades to rate schools. And the employee reviews done by many companies -- meets expectations, exceeds expectations, etc. -- is really a form of letter grading.

But it has the disadvantage of being simplistic. Seeing an A or a B gives you a real quick overview, but it's a little shoert of details. How many violations were there and what kind were they? Could any make you sick? The system also seems a little different from the one I remember. A C means failing? A B means they were closed?

When it comes to the whole dining experience and not just issues of cleanliness, I look for reviews based on the 5-star rating system. The reviewers usually give a mzximum of three stars for food and one each for atmosphere and service. So you not only know the overall rating, you also know how it breaks down.

And have you caught on yet to the trick of looking for online reviews before trying a new restaurant? More and more people are sharing their dining experiences online, and their comments at travel and dining sites can give you a real sense of what a place is like.

Posted in: Food and Drink