Restaurant food safety is monitored by local health departments through routine inspections. Given the historical use of different inspection formats, the purpose of this study was to assess how word choices used to categorize violations could influence restaurant manager interpretation of inspection results. This study used a scenario-based questionnaire to examine manager perceptions and preferences among inspection formats, including the three-tier system currently recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. Results suggest that managers were able to determine the relative seriousness of violations, but perceptions of risk were influenced by the words used to classify the violation. In particular, use of the words "priority foundation" and "core" as part of the three-tier violation format were confusing. Managers preferred the letter grade and numeric score systems because they were perceived to be easy to understand, easy to use, accurate, and require the least amount of time. Managers had some concerns about the new three-tier system in the area of accuracy. Results suggest the need for additional training for restaurant managers, especially on the meaning of different classifying terms when changing to a new inspection format, as well as the rationale and benefits of changing to a new system such as the three-tier format.