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An NY Plumber on Why Letter Grades Are a Good Thing

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2011_03_plumber.jpgAnd now, apropos of nothing, a letter to the editor from a New York City plumber. Yes, it will be a bit too technical or dull for some, but restaurateurs, nuts and bolts folks, and followers of the Dept. of Health letter grades debate may want to read on.

I’m a plumber in Manhattan and Brooklyn for many years now that happens to eat out a lot. A restaurant I like in the West Village just posted a C grade sign on their front window with a letter from the owner taped above it explaining the chef was "unfamiliar" with how the grading system would work and that the restaurant’s water heater happened to be non-functional the day of the inspection.

By now, people who follow such things with even a cursory awareness of the DOH process know there just has to be more to this story.

Of course, there are always legitimately unfortunate reasons why bad things happen to good restaurants, and I’ll still get my sandwich from my C-spot, but I can tell you there is a pattern that has been in place in Manhattan for a long time.

Adequate hot water is always a big problem in the smaller mom-and-pop type restaurants.

The DoH dictates that dishwashing machines must wash with 160?f water and rinse with 180?f water.

Consider that the water we shower with is closer to 105?-115? and with some exceptions your home dishwasher might see water as hot as 140? if it has an internal booster, it should be easy to understand that it takes a great deal more energy, and often commercial-grade equipment, to consistently create such high-temperature water for a busy kitchen.

What I’m seeing more and more lately is that it’s mostly the older, established and newer, higher-end restaurants that are meeting these standards consistently. Many of the newer places, if they’re not funded to the hilt, seem to be trying to get away with residential-grade water heating equipment that might get them close to the target on an intermittent basis, but fall far short during a busy lunch or dinner service when demand peaks.

I can often tell instantly when I sit in a restaurant whether or not they’re meeting the hot water temperature requirements by the condition of the glasses and silverware. While not foolproof, a fairly reliable and uncomfortably common indicator is the presence of white spots and lipstick stuck on glasses.

At 160-180 degrees, everything gets clean. Real clean.

It should be noted, too, that some chemical treatments may be substituted for 180-degree water, but who really wants that?

I, for one, am happy to see the letter grading system in place. I hope it brings a long-overdue awareness to a problem that just shouldn’t be happening.
John Cataneo, NYC Licensed Master Plumber

So, see some spots on those glasses? Maybe your restaurant needs a new dishwasher.
[photo credit]