PEOPLE dining out in South Somerset no longer have to sit down to eat while wondering what goes on behind the kitchen door.
A new food hygiene rating scheme has been launched online by South Somerset District Council to help customers make informed choices.
The ratings do not guarantee the quality of the food but, on a six-point scale, they expose whether the preparation process is up to scratch.
Following inspections by the district council's food safety teams, many premises have been given a top score of five, meaning they comply with hygiene law.
But there are some that have fallen below standard, scoring a zero grade which means urgent improvements are required.
A score of one means major improvement is necessary, while a two also calls for improvement.
The inspectors look at how the food is handled, including re-heating and storage and the cleanliness and layout of the premises.
Of the 1,207 businesses inspected, 1,146 scored a three or above while 545 scored five.
Businesses hitting the top mark included Earls Sandwich in Silver Street, in Yeovil.
Owner Michael Worth welcomed the scheme. He said: "I think it's a great idea. There are people out there who are trying to get things right."
Gary Pocock, a partner of Barrett Brothers butchers in Market Street, Crewkerne, which scored a five, said the initiative could give traders a boost. He added: "It will highlight the independent traders that are doing the job right."
Roy Legg, proprietor of top scoring Bakery Roy-Al in the Moorlands Shopping Centre, in Martock, said cleanliness has always been a priority.
He said: "It's nice that the council is taking the time to recognise this."
The Kings Arms Hotel in Charlton Horethorne was also given the top grading. Owner Tony Lethbridge said he strived for excellence.
Three venues in the district scored zero. If improvements are not made they could face prosecution.
Among them was The Royal Oak in Barwick, which was inspected and rated in July.
Landlord John Gardiner said he was closing the business on Saturday because of lack of trade.
He said: "I suppose it doesn't really matter as we're leaving, but I did think they would be coming back for another inspection first before putting the gradings online."
Pepper's, the cafe at Yeovil Junction railway station, was rated as a zero in July.
Proprietors Pete and Rosalyn Ciano retired on the grounds of ill health on Friday, and Mr Ciano said it had become more difficult to clean the premises when his wife was diagnosed with throat cancer.
The cafe is now under new management.
The kitchen at the Ivel Barbarian Rugby Club on Dorchester Road in Yeovil was rated one at its most recent inspection in December 2009.
But facilities manager Dave Prosser criticised the grade as outdated and said significant improvements had been made.
The club caters for parties and private bookings as well as match days.
He said: "We have literally spent thousands of pounds on a major kitchen refit since that inspection."
The Gorge Cafe at Yeovil bus station was graded as a one in January last year. The manager was unavailable for comment.
The Helyar Arms in East Coker was also visited in January last year and graded one.
The award-winning Bengal Fusion restaurant in Crewkerne was given a score of one in August. Management said significant improvements had been made since then.
Business director Jahangir Alom said since moving to the premises, in Market Square, in 2009, they had spent £200,000 improving it. He added that he would be questioning the score with the district council.
"We aim for top class and I'm confident, if the inspectors came back tomorrow, we would get a five."
The Virginia Ash pub in Henstridge scored a one when it was inspected in October.
But landlord Andy Simcock said a visit from an inspector on Friday confirmed they were on their way to four or five.
Evans Family Butchers, of Parrett Close, in Langport, was originally scored zero but after a reassessment on Monday was graded four. Owner Pedro Aparicio attributed the low score to the fact he was refitting the premises when the inspectors first visited.
Greensleeves Nurseries in Odcombe was listed as zero but after another inspection on Thursday was rated three. The district council confirmed that the website will be updated.
Business partner David Gray said: "We sell things like fruit and veg and cakes, and we have had a whole new shop put in since the zero inspection.
"It's nice to have it confirmed that we have improved, and the inspector was very encouraging."
Councillor Ric Pallister, the district council's environmental health portfolio holder said: "The emphasis is on keeping standards high while helping businesses to understand what they need to do to operate safe, clean and successful premises."
To check the ratings visit www.southsomerset.gov.uk/food.