What if a restaurant doesn’t have a window? Where to look for food safety rating window signs

Have you seen the emojis in the windows of restaurants? They’re our new Food Safety Rating System  “window signs” to help people know how restaurants are doing with their food safety practices. But not every restaurant has a window or even a front door. You may ask, “Where are those restaurants supposed to post their new food safety rating window sign and where can I look for it?” We’re here to show you how our food inspectors have worked with restaurant staff to find a place, in restaurants of all spaces and sizes, to post the window sign while still meeting the requirements. And we’ve seen some creative places.

What’s required?

According to the code approved by the King County Board of Health, window signs must be located within five feet of the main public entrance to the food establishment so that the sign is clearly visible to people passing by or entering the food establishment.  The code is written in a way to allow for flexibility, so food inspectors and restaurant staff can work together to post the sign in a place that works for both parties and still adheres to the code.

How do you decide where to post the sign?

Within the code, food inspectors have discretion to work with restaurants to find a place that best fits each restaurant’s varying size, shape and type. Restaurants have varying preferences: some like to post the sign right by the front door, others like to frame it and hang it on the wall, and both are OK with us.

Food Inspector Pui Shum tells us what that looks like when he is conducting an inspection and posting a window sign.

 “After I conduct an inspection and I am ready to post the restaurant’s window sign I discuss with restaurant staff what is reasonable, the sign has to be where the public can see it, it doesn’t have to be right out front but, it has to be close to the main entrance. If there is a disagreement I ask the manager or owner to come outside to look with me to find a reasonable place to post the window sign together.”

Food Inspector Pui has worked with restaurant managers and owners in many different situations.

“Once a restaurant manager asked me if they could post the sign on the wall near the restaurant entrance, that would normally be a great place for the sign but, the place on the wall the restaurant manager wanted to post the sign happened to be right behind a bamboo tree, so that was not okay. Another restaurant owner wanted to frame the sign to make it easier to hang on a curvy section of wall that was near the restaurant entrance, while other restaurants want to wait to hang the sign to get an official OK on the sign placement from their corporate offices, both are okay with Public Health.”

Where to look for a window sign

Since the rating system launched in January, our food inspectors have worked with restaurant staff in some creative ways to meet both the code and the restaurant’s needs.

Restaurant with a front and back door

Restaurants whose customers use more than one entrance, such as a front door on the street and a back door that leads to a parking lot, can post their window sign on both doors or choose the one that is most used by their customers.

This restaurant posted their “Excellent” window sign on both their front

elliot bay front

And back entrances.

elliot bay back.png

Food Courts

In food courts, food inspectors and restaurant staff got creative when they were faced with no doors or windows. Look for window signs in unique places such as:

Near the cash register,

food court 5

on top of a buffet,

food court buffeton a wall,

food court 1     food court 3

on a support pole,

Support pole

or even while waiting in line!

sign in line

Delis and coffee shops within grocery stores

Delis and coffee shops within grocery stores are considered general food service establishments so they get a food safety rating. Their window sign won’t be on the outside of the grocery store but, inside, where the deli or coffee shop is located.

grocery store deli

What’s not okay?

These window signs are partially and almost fully covered up, this breaks the code’s requirement of being clearly visible to people passing by or entering the restaurant. When we come across window signs that are incorrectly posted we work with the restaurant to help them repost the sign. If the problem continues restaurants may receive a penalty fee.

Okay sign covered

excellent-covered.jpg     good covered 2

The rating system is rolling out across King County in four phases throughout the year. Phase two starts in April and includes restaurants in Seattle (south of Interstate 90), Vashon, Bellevue, Mercer Island, New Castle and Renton. These restaurants will receive their rating and window sign after they are routinely inspected. Restaurants located in phase one (1,100 restaurants now have their rating!) areas will continue receiving their ratings when routinely inspected.

Share with us on Facebook and Twitter the window signs you have been seeing around town!

Originally posted on March 22, 2017.