Montreal a step closer to requiring restaurants to display inspection ratings

Montreal is asking the province to force restaurants to display inspection ratings — a system already in place in some Canadian cities — but not everybody is on side.

Quebec Restaurant Association opposes move, saying it will drive away customers

New York City makes restaurants post inspection ratings. Will Montreal be next? It's now up to the province after Montreal council unanimously approved a motion in favour of that practice Tuesday. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

Montreal is asking the province for permission to force restaurants and other food-service providers to display inspection ratings, but not everybody is on side.

City council unanimously approved a motion put forward by opposition Ensemble Montréal Tuesday that calls on the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) to require restaurants to display the results of MAPAQ's inspections.

Those ratings are already available on the MAPAQ website, but that's not as user-friendly for restaurant goers.

However, inspection ratings on display in an establishment's window is not very inviting and can be misleading, restaurant owners complain.

"We believe it will cause problems with customers' perceptions," said Martin Vézina, the spokesperson for the Quebec Restaurant Association.

Vézina gives the example of Toronto's Dine Safe program, which requires restaurants to post green, yellow or red signs, displaying their inspection rating.

That colour-coded system doesn't make it clear what infraction a given restaurant committed, Vézina said.

A yellow sign indicates a minor infraction, such as a fridge temperature being slightly off, he said.

However, a third of Toronto restaurant-goers avoid businesses displaying a yellow sign, because they believe the sign indicates the restaurant isn't safe.

Vézina has suggested Montreal adopt a demerit system, similar to what the province uses for drivers' licences, however, councillors from all parties disagree.

'People look for it now': Beis

Prominently displayed ratings would help consumers know exactly what they're getting into, Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough Mayor Jim Beis, who is with Ensemble Montréal, told CBC earlier this month.

"Being a metropolitan city that we are, knowing that we have many tourists that come to the city, this is something that's become pretty standard throughout the world, and people look for it now," he said.

After the motion passed Tuesday, opposition leader Lionel Perez, was quick to tweet praise, calling the initiative "another example of ⁦Ensemble Montréal working in the interest of Montrealers!"

We are following closely the interventions concerning the possibility of posting the inspection notices issued by the city services in the window of the restaurants in Montreal.

Laurence Voyzelle, a MAPAQ spokesperson, told CBC that the government is "in tune with the public on this issue."

MAPAQ officials are evaluating the situation and are in discussion with different stakeholders as the agency explores various options.

Montreal restaurateur supports motion

Montreal restaurant owner and chef David Ferguson says he supports any move to make restaurant dining safer.

But he hopes such a system will be enforced universally and that business owners will be well informed as to how the rating system works.

Ferguson, who owns Restaurant Gus on Beaubien Street East, said sometimes inspectors change, and each new inspector has a different take on the rules. That means something that may have been considered OK for years might suddenly earn a fine.

Because of that, Ferguson said it is important that everybody, inspectors included, is on the same page, and people understand what it takes to maintain a top-level safety rating.

"You can't say this is not a good thing," Ferguson said about the motion. "It's good for society to have healthy restaurants."


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