CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Borrowing a grade school teacher's strategy, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is handing out gold stars.
And it seems to be avoiding the Lake Woebegone effect, with everyone above average.
Using its new inspection system, the department has worked its way through about half of the county's 1,200-plus restaurants.
Of those 595 inspected to date, 26 - only 4 percent - have received those gold stars.
A pilot of the new inspection system started last summer and now is fully in place. The gold star program began on Feb. 1.
It was created to distinguish exceptional facilities that exhibit superior compliance with health law, said Anita Ray, the department's director of environmental health.
"I think it's going well for a relatively new program," Ray said. "What our hopes are - though we haven't been doing it long enough to tell - is that it will be an extra incentive for people to operate safely."
Nasandra Wright, sanitarian supervisor, said, "We want to highlight facilities that are doing an exemplary job."
Betty Lou's Diner in South Charleston received one of those gold stars. Its employees say the conditions that earned them that award should be the standard way to operate.
"I think it's a good incentive because every restaurant should be held accountable to a high standard," said Stefani Angel, 23, a manager at Betty Lou's.
"Every restaurant should be clean, and everything should be in order."
Angel has been working at the diner off and on since it first opened on Jan. 22, 2010.
"It's not difficult. I clean every day. I have a list I go by," she said.
"We strive to be one of the best and one of the cleanest restaurants we possibly can. If we go out and eat at a restaurant, we don't want it to be dirty. We want people to feel at home.
"It's a family-owned diner, and the owners and I live in the neighborhood. We want our customers to feel welcome."
To qualify for a gold star, facilities must have zero critical violations and only a few non-critical violations, with the number varying according to the establishment's risk level.
Facilities are assigned a level ranging from 1 to 4 that indicates how much of a risk they could pose to the public.
Risk level 1 facilities include gas stations that serve prepackaged food. Risk level 4 facilities include major restaurants that serve dishes made from scratch.
Risk level 1 facilities can have no more than 1 non-critical violation; level 2 can have no more than two; level 3 can have no more than three; and level 4 can have no more than five.