Count the plates. They're the key to information about Darien restaurants.

The Darien Health Department began last week enforcing a new policy, requiring restaurants to post inspection ratings in plain view of customers. The inspection sheets rate restaurants as good, fair or poor by showing three, two or one plates, respectively. The new sheets will be displayed in addition to the state-mandated official inspections.

"The idea is to make restaurants and their scoring more visible for the public. The state report is two pages. Who's going to read that?" Director of Health David Knauf said.

"I brought the idea from the Farmington Valley Health District, where I used to work," Knauf said. "We were the first in Connecticut to do this there, and it was very successful. This was an idea I always had for Darien."

Originally, Knauf was hoping to use one-to-three lobsters to indicate the food-safety quality.

"Some liked it and some didn't," he said. No one disliked the plates. "We wanted to do something that relates to food, and we're near the water; this is iconic of the location of the town."

About 80 locations around town will be required to post the sheets for customers to see.

"It doesn't apply to every restaurant in town," Knauf said.

The program only applies to class-three and class-four restaurants. These restaurants are defined as food service establishments having exposed potentially hazardous foods that are prepared by hot processes and consumed by the public.

Though the inspection process is still going on, some restaurants around town have already started posting their results. Uncle's Deli at 1041 Post Road has its three-plate "good" rating on display on top of the deli cooler.

This "good" rating means that there were no critical violations observed during the inspection. A fair rating will be issued when a restaurant meets the minimum requirements detailed in the Connecticut Public Health Code, but improvements are needed in food handling practices. A poor rating will be given when a restaurant earns a failing grade (80 or below) on its inspection, or chronic or critical practices likely to cause food-borne illnesses are evident during the inspection.

Restaurants that are given a poor inspection report will have the chance for re-inspection.

"When you fail a health inspection, we're required to re-inspect in two weeks," Knauf said. "If you receive a `poor,' you can submit a request detailing how you've improved and pay a fee and then you can get re-inspected."

The fee for class-four restaurants would be $250, Knauf said.

"The whole point is to emphasize `good,'" Knauf said. "We want to start issuing letters of commendation for places that have been `good' for an entire permit year."