Do Health-Code Violation's Like Alinea's Really Matter?

You may or may not have heard some surprising rumors out of the foodie world a few weeks ago, and as it turned out, it's true: Alinea failed a health inspection on Nov. 30.

The sci-fi, Michelin-starred restaurant quickly corrected its four violations, and then passed its re-inspection, but if you run a small or no-name restaurant, surely you're wondering: "What hope do I have of bouncing back from a health-code violation if Alinea can shrug them off like they're nothing?"

That's actually a good point, reader -- in an age when these violations can be dusted off instantly, what sort of recourse do you have if you find yourself slapped with one? After they're addressed, do they even matter? After all, Alinea was found to have black mold -- icky -- and it's likely its customers all vying for a coveted reservation don't even bother to Google for "Alinea health violations," they just know they want to eat there.

"For many restaurants, high or low end, a health inspection is considered just the cost of doing business," says Julie Lovelass, the director of operations for Keeping It Kleen, an online community dedicated to food safety and handling. "If they get a bad inspection, they pay their fine and go on with their day."

So does that mean they can be shrugged off? Not necessarily.

"In cities like NYC and LA where a health inspection letter grade is posted at eye level in the window, reputations are no longer as bulletproof as you may think," adds Lovelass. "The letter grade may not be in place in Chicago, however I believe customers are aware and eventually reputations will be tarnished."

Still, it's hard to imagine anything will keep people away from Alinea. Both celeb chefs Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern -- a guy who willingly eats every stripe of animal part he can get his mouth around -- stopped there when their respective shows blew through town.

(Though Tony, ever the contrarian, didn't like it.) 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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