Do you look at Health Dept. scores?
Do you check out the Health Dept. scores before you go to a restaurant? I live in south Florida and the asian restaurants many times are at the top of the list for bad scores.....What gives ? I love the food, but my gosh, I'm scared to eat it.
I went to one of the Guy Fieri "dives" a week ago. It grossed me out what was happening before my eyes.
I was in south Fl recently not that that has anything to do with it and was searching restaurants. Ended up getting a google hit for the Health Dept scores. Got into looking up many the top restaurants. They all had violations. The more I looked the more I knew that violations are a part of the business. How they manage them is the key.
Florida happens to have pretty transparent reporting on restaurant inspections. While every restaurant gets a report for for every inspection, and minor violations are not unusual (i.e., food containers not labeled, no proof of employee training posted, etc.), obviously some violations are more significant (and gross) than others.
I wouldn't want the statement "They all had violations" to be interpreted as suggesting that all South Florida restaurants are health hazards. That's clearly not the case.
Don't know what the criteria are in Florida, but in most places the restaurant will get gigged for the kind of housekeeping we all do at home: storage of cleaning chemicals near food prep areas or near food storage, washing hands in the dish sink or prep sink, wet towels hanging over sinks...and let's not get started on animals in the kitchen! That'd get any restaurant shut down right now. If the LA County health inspectors could drop in on me and see the dog with her nose in the trash bag under the work table, Mrs. O washing her hands next to the open bowl of cut vegetables, me using my forefinger (repeatedly!) as a tasting spoon, all while preparing food for a mob of family and friends... I don't think they have a Z rating, do they?
Back when I was eatin' buddies with a Palo Alto girl whose favorite food was Chinese, we made a habit of parking behind a restaurant if possible and coming in through the kitchen. Her view was that the more horrifying a hellhole the kitchen was, the better the food would be. That was not strictly true, but the sparkly-clean ones did always have boring food. Probably just a coincidence...
I don't actively seek them out, but there are food reporters on the local news that give you run-downs of violators, as well as a couple local food blogs that keep you informed. My husband use to work with restaurants and got to see the kitchens. Now there are some places that I really did like, but he said no way, and it wasn't over something small. Also, like scubadoo said, it depends on how quickly they respond and how many times they have had violations. Sometimes they just have a bad night and that is when the Inspector shows up.
I think it should also be said that the nature of the violation is important, which is why I like to be where the results of inspections are publicly posted (they did this in Nashville, for instance). Repeated incidents of improper storage temperatures or chronic rat/roach infestations beats the hell out of keeping detergent under the prep sink.
In my experience it's a matter of who's inspecting, some will let you correct minor infraction right there and never write it down, then there are some who will write volumes about a small spider web under a shelf in dry storage. I used them as another "pair of eyes" to get something we may have missed.