Soon, diners checking out Sacramento County restaurants on Yelp will be getting a bit more information: each restaurant’s health inspection report and its green, yellow or red rating.
Luther Lowe, Yelp’s vice president of public policy, told me that the goal is to put vital health information in a place where consumers can see it rather than having it at a .gov website that very few people actually access. The company’s fact sheet says millions of unique visitors access Yelp’s database each month: 21 million on the mobile app, 69 million on the mobile web page and 77 million on the desktop website.
“When people use Yelp to find a restaurant, they’re in the middle of deciding where they’re going to go eat,” Lowe said, “and so if we can show them the restaurant hygiene score when they’re looking, that’s incredibly powerful information for the consumer.”
Yelp already publishes restaurant inspections for Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, San Diego County, Riverside County and other government agencies around the nation. Over the past three years, it has added jurisdictions as they have put their data in a format compatible with Yelp’s system.
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“We have our own format,” Lowe said, “and we announced to the world, ‘Listen, if you put the restaurant grade in Column B and restaurant address in Column C, then we’ve basically created a template format that your data will import into.’ That’s all they have to do to participate in the program. Now, Sacramento adheres to the format we provided.”
Sacramento County got ready for Yelp with the help of a couple of programmers, said Brenda Bongiorno, the agency’s communication and media officer. The county invited civic-minded innovators to bring their skills and ideas to the first-ever Hack4Sac event that kicked off Feb. 3 and ran for six weeks.
Two individuals, Joseph Lei and Christine Feaster, opted to tackle the challenge of making the restaurant inspection data compatible with Yelp’s system. While the duo’s work didn’t win one of the top prizes at Hack4Sac, they will now have the satisfaction of knowing their work made the information available.
Yelp public relations manager Hannah Cheesman said the health inspection information should be online by the end of the week. In Sacramento County, restaurants receive a green rating if they pass inspection, a conditional yellow rating if they have items they must fix, and a red rating if they failed and must shut down. The inspections, performed by the Environmental Management Department, have been available online for years at www.emd.saccounty.net and m.ffi.saccounty.net.
Ask McDonald’s franchisee Ti Chang how long health inspections have been on Yelp in L.A. County, and he’ll tell you that he doesn’t recall. (It was December 2013.)
“I have not noticed any difference with our customers,” said Chang, who sits on the L.A. County Restaurant Association’s board of directors. “We always strive to get A’s. Once in a while, every two or three years, we’ll get a B, and we always ask for a reinspection after we correct the issues they were looking for. We get an A posted within a couple weeks.”
Sacramento-area restaurateur Randy Paragary said his restaurants typically get greens. Occasionally, though, if the inspector finds a piece of equipment isn’t functioning, he said, the restaurants will get a yellow conditional placard until they can call in a repairman to fix it. Then, he said, they’ll request a reinspection. He said he hopes that the Yelp reviews will be updated quickly in such cases.
Yelp updates health scores daily, Cheesman said, so if the Sacramento County health scores feed is updated, Yelp will update the scores within 24 hours.