Since 2006, the city of Sioux Falls has posted restaurant inspection scores and reports online, exposing the establishments' flaws and strengths to the dining public.
Restaurant owners there say they welcome the transparency.
First, that's because if they get a good score, "It's kind of a badge of honor," said Randy Durheim, operating partner with Pinnacle Hospitality.
Pinnacle owns three popular restaurants: Callaway's, which most recently scored a 93 out of 100, Foley's, which scored a 91, and Tre Lounge, with a 93.
But Durheim also sees the inspection process as an opportunity, not something punitive.
"We take their feedback very seriously, but we also value it, because it's basically our free audit," Durheim said. "To have that level of professional (inspector) come through your kitchen, if you had to pay for it, it would not be cheap."
Having an inspector find a problem, he said, springs him to action to fix it and train his staff on how to avoid the problem in the future.
"It's a big part of how we operate and a cornerstone of what our business is," Durheim said. "It would not be our intent by any means to get scores that are not favorable that would be published. It drives us as operators to make sure we are maintaining the highest level possible."
The city of Sioux Falls uses the same 44-item checklist as the state Department of Health, and the score is based on the same 100-point scale.
LuAnn Ford, consumer protection public health manager for the Siouxland Environmental Health Department, said there wasn't a lot of concern from restaurants when scores went online in 2006, though operators are aware of what could happen if a good or bad score is posted.
"The facilities are more aware of their scores and how that score can impact their business by having it posted," she said.
"I think it's actually an asset for all of us, not just the public who's out there looking at the score, but the businesses, to be aware that the things they do to keep their business safe and clean can have a positive impact on their business as well."
Nicki Ellerbroek, owner and general manager of McNally's Irish Pub, agreed the inspections raise the bar.
"It keeps owners and managers more accountable to their guests," she said.
McNally's most recent score was a 94 out of 100.
Some customers have commented on her scores, and she doesn't mind the scores being made public.
"The public has a right to know if the establishments they are drinking and dining in are up to par," Ellerbroek said.
Tina Kuehn, owner and chef at K Restaurant, which earned 99 out of 100, said in her experience it's a restaurant's reputation, quality and service, more than its scores, that brings in or turns away business, and that she has never had a customer ask about her score. But still she said the scores are an important tool for consumers.
"You need to know that the place you're going to meets the codes," she said.
Kuehn said she hopes people who look at the scores understand that they vary from inspection to inspection and that a restaurant may have cleaned up a problem since the inspection as posted. It is the pattern that's important, she said.
"If I were to look at the scores and see a restaurant that for a long time has not had good scores, I would keep that in mind," Kuehn said.
She takes care to meet the inspectors' requirements but not just because the score will be posted.
"It's something I take very seriously, the health of my customers," Kuehn said. "It just takes one mistake and you can ruin your business and make somebody very sick."
Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or firstname.lastname@example.org