Gotham rates theater concessions

Health Dept. grades for safety

Legit patrons are used to seeing review blurbs plastered on Broadway theaters. Now, if New York City has its way, they’ll also encounter a simple letter grade of A, B or C. But it won’t rate the show or the performers. Rather, it’ll describe the sanitary condition of the house concession stands.

Although most ticketbuyers along the Rialto don’t realize it, theaters are among the 24,000 food-service facilities inspected and rated by Gotham’s Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene. And since the letter program launched in July 2010, establishments receiving a grade must post it so that potential patrons can see before ordering.

While nobody cooks in these venues, food is still sold and consumed. “We do serve snack products, but they’re all individually packaged,” says Krista Lynn Peckyno, the director of business affairs for Theater Refreshment Co. of New York. The private firm, closely tied to the Shuberts, has been running concessions for all of the org’s houses on Broadway for three dozen years.

Why inspect concession stands that don’t prepare food? “Bars are inspected,” points out Susan Craig, a spokeswoman for the Health Dept. “We have rules for sanitation, for ice, for temperature, things like that,” she adds, noting that the goal is to detect “anything that could potentially spread food-borne illness.”

Food-service establishments are checked for evidence of vermin. In addition, inspectors look at the personal hygiene of the staff as well as the condition of the facility and its equipment. They also verify compliance with administrative rules, including signposting.

Points are charged for each violation and totaled. Operators may appeal the findings, but ultimately, the facility will receive an A (13 or fewer points), B (14 to 27 points) or C (28 or more points) grade. Inspectors can close an operation that receives 28 or more points on three consecutive inspections.

Theoretically, that would give the Lyceum Theater two more shots at keeping its bars open. On May 12, it scored 56 points. Yet that inspection found no sign of mice, rats, roaches or flies.

Why the high score? “In this particular venue, we don’t have any water-line hookup,” says Peckyno, adding that sinks for the Lyceum’s three bars are portable and sometimes don’t meet water temperature requirements.

In contrast, the Golden Theater, which received zero points on its most recent inspection in 2010, has “beautiful permanent bars” with water lines, she says.

The Health Dept. expects to complete grading inspections for all covered establishments in the city by the end of the year. Most Broadway houses have not yet been given a grade, but once a letter is awarded, the rules say it must be displayed.

“You can get a violation if it is not posted conspicuously,” Craig says.

That could become a bone of contention. “We post them on the inside of our office door,” Peckyno says, and the company’s contract with the theaters restricts where it can post signs.

Even if patrons can’t see the grade signs, details of food-service inspections are posted on the Health Dept.’s website. But finding the information isn’t always easy.

Enter “Lyceum” in the site’s search box and you’ll get a report on the historic Shubert house. The Booth, however, is listed under its concession holder.

Likewise, the Nederlander’s Palace is filed as “Palace Concessions.” Entering “Palace” will bring up the inspection reports, along with those of 11 other Gotham eateries, including five fried chicken joints, with names that start with the word “Palace.”

Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont shows up on the site under “Sweet Concessions & Lincoln Center.” And the Shubert houses named for former helmers Gerald Schoenfeld and Bernard B. Jacobs are listed under the theaters’ previous names, “Plymouth” and “Royale.”

Unannounced inspections sometimes occur during performances, or worse, from the concession operator’s standpoint, at intermission.

“It’s been an annoyance,” Peckyno says.

Although she understands the need for the inspections, Peckyno is a bit skeptical about the process. Fines can range for $200 to $2,000 per violation. “It seems to be a good way for the city to make some money,” she says.

The Health Dept.’s Craig differs. The resources added to implement the new letter-grade inspection program far outweigh any revenue realized by the city, she says.

Still, some theater people may feel that their bars are being unfairly targeted by the new rules. After all, hundreds of delis in the area that make take-out sandwiches, salads and hot meals but escape the Health Dept.’s inspections.

That’s because “supermarkets and delis that are primarily markets are regulated by the state,” not the city, Craig says.

Now maybe if theaters required patrons to eat that pre-packaged brownie outside…

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