March 24, 2011 -- In the News: Improper employee hand washing, rodent activity and contaminated food preparation surfaces are among the grotesque reasons restaurants across America fail restaurant inspection reports. Chances are you wouldn't want to eat somewhere with food-safety violations. Yet in some states, restaurants are not required to reveal their most recent reports unless asked by conscientious customers. For this reason, in recent years, the nonprofit watchdog restaurant group Center for Science in the Public Interest has been calling on state and local governments to require all restaurants to post a letter grade in their window front. Los Angeles has been using this system for over a decade and the CPSI believes the desire to display an "A" letter grade will give restaurants a bigger incentive to uphold food safety standards. Food illnesses hit 76 million Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Would you want to eat in a restaurant with less than an "A" grade?
The Scenario: We set out to find what bystanders would do if they witnessed a waiter drop food on the floor and serve it to unsuspecting patrons. We set up hidden cameras at Holsten's Confectionary in Bloomfield, N.J. -- a popular, well-regarded restaurant that would, of course, never tolerate such behavior from its own staff -- and hired actors to play a clumsy waiter and a hungry couple, out with a hankering for grilled cheese sandwiches. We found people were quick to warn our couple when they saw the disservice. But would anyone alert our couple if they became obnoxious and impolite?
What They Said:
"He picked up the pickles and everything and pit it back on the plate…just dropped it on the floor and brought it over."
-- a shocked Holsten's customer after witnessing our actor server's spill
"I should have called him on it, but I didn't."
-- a sympathetic customer who was a former waitress
"Why don't you get our food. You're incompetent…I don't care if you're sorry, I just want our food."
-- our "What Would You Do?" offensive couple
"He deserved to eat the food that fell on the floor."
-- a customer that kept quiet about the tainted food
"Let him eat the dirty food. He was being a dirty man."
-- Holsten's patron reacting to our rude actors