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The History of the Michelin Guide and How It Changed the World of Food
Restaurants that receive one, two, or three stars are the best in their categories.
The Michelin Guide is a restaurant guide published by the French company Michelin. The guide awards stars to restaurants based on the quality of their food, and in some editions, on the quality of their wine lists.
When it was first published in 1900, it contained no maps or illustrations. The first edition covered France and included only ten restaurants and hotels. By 1926, there were 18 editions with coverage of 20 countries.
In 1926, the first Michelin Guide to Italy was published; this edition included maps for each region and a list of hotels and restaurants. It awarded no stars to establishments with fewer than ten rooms or served less than 50 covers per day.
What is the Michelin Guide?
The Michelin Guide is a ranking system that awards Michelin stars to restaurants. The guide is published annually and includes three editions: selecting the world’s best restaurants, France’s “Bib Gourmand” eateries, and the Bibendum or “Red Guide,” which covers gastronomy across Europe.
Michelin stars are awarded to restaurants on their quality of food, service, ambiance, and consistency. The more stars a restaurant has, the higher its quality.
Brothers Édouard and André Michelin founded the Michelin Guide in 1900 to encourage French people to take road trips out of Paris and explore new places.
It was awarded one star for excellent cooking at a modest price, two for good cooking at an attractive price, and finally, three stars for exceptional cuisine worth a unique journey.
Today, the guide includes France’s Bib Gourmand listings — restaurants that offer two courses plus a dessert or wine for less than €38 ($44) — and its international editions list all restaurants that give back one star to their countries.
Since 1926, the distinction of 0-to-3 Michelin stars has been considered a prestigious honor to chefs worldwide.
Over time, more and more stars have been awarded to elite establishments in cities across Japan, Australia, Singapore, and other countries around the globe.
But, some people believe awarding stars based on price limits certain restaurants from being included in the guide.
In 2015, several top French chefs — including Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud — spoke out against the Bib Gourmand designation because they felt undermining their restaurants associated with a low-cost list.
“It will be a real shame if a restaurant that has been open for 25 years must now close because it can no longer afford to serve its wines by the glass,” said one French restaurateur who wished to remain anonymous. “A lot of restaurants could disappear from the Guide, which would not be good news.”
Another concern is that more international chefs plan entire trips around earning Michelin stars as the world gets smaller. Some say this may discourage chefs from experimenting with new dishes since innovation means riskier evaluation from inspectors.
What is so special about Michelin stars?
The restaurants that receive one, two, or three stars are described as the best in their categories — and compared to all other eateries by those standards — according to anonymous inspectors who visit each restaurant anonymously every 18 months.
It doesn’t mean that a two-star restaurant serves better meals than a three-star or vice versa. Still, a two-star chef’s dishes need only be very good compared to other Parisian restaurants serving excellent food.
In the Michelin Guide, three stars are considered exceptional, two very good, and one is viewed as a standout.
In France’s Bib Gourmand list, which highlights “good food at moderate prices,” 34 restaurants earned new awards in 2017, with 322 restaurants recognized as repeat winners as they have maintained their standards over time.
How to Get a Michelin Star Rating?
A Michelin star rating is a coveted accolade for any restaurant. The award is given annually to select restaurants worldwide, which Michelin’s anonymous inspectors judge on their food quality, service, and ambiance.
This prestigious award is given to less than 0.5% of the restaurants included in the Michelin Guide, so it’s no surprise some restaurants go to great lengths to earn one. Here are some tips on how some high-profile chefs have made a star rating.
Control what you can control — If there’s a way you can measure something, be sure that your chefs and wait staff perform as required each time. For example, if you know that a dessert should be presented with eight chocolate shavings on top at all times, make sure everyone follows through so that when an inspector comes by, they have only positive things to say about your restaurant.
Pay attention to details — Make sure that things like silverware, flatware, glasses, and plates are spotlessly clean. Ensure your bathrooms are well stocked with toilet paper at all times. Go above and beyond to ensure that all the small stuff is taken care of so you don’t have any surprises when an inspector comes knocking on your door.
Improve your offering — You may not always be able to control what happens in your kitchen or dining room. Still, it would help if you always strived to improve upon it. If something isn’t up to snuff, consider making changes before inspectors come calling so you can show them that your restaurant is committed to excellence.
Hire a pro — Even if you’ve worked under Michelin-starred chefs in the past, you may not have all the skills required to earn a star. That’s why it’s a good idea to hire a professional consultant who can help with everything from refining your menu to understanding how inspectors think.
Get feedback — When an inspector comes to your restaurant, remember that they are human like everyone else and that there is a chance that they could make a mistake when they score your food or service. That’s why it’s crucial to ask for feedback from as many people as possible so you can understand what you do well and where you need improvement.
Push yourself — Did you know that only about 10% of restaurants located at shopping centers receive stars? If yours is one of them, it’s time to reassess your concept and menu. You may also need to adjust your pricing or hours of operation if you want an edge over your competition.
Expect the unexpected — Inspectors are trained to ask questions about anything that seems unusual on your menu, like a salad with no protein or pasta having a different sauce than usual. Make sure you know how all your dishes are prepared so that when an inspector comes in, they see consistency and quality.
Be picky about who works for you — When inspectors rank restaurants based on the knowledge and skills of their wait staff, hiring people who can answer questions about food preparation is integral. Consider checking out high-energy, enthusiastic employees knowledgeable about wines and the menu to find these individuals.
Map out your logistics — Inspectors look at everything from how quickly food is brought to diners to how long it takes for them to get their check when they leave. Make sure you have a system in place when it comes to all these things, so your servers know precisely what they need to do when an inspector walks through your door.
Keep track of complaints — If someone sends back a dish, comps their meal, or complains in any way, make sure that person’s name is recorded in your reservation book in case an inspector wants to speak with them. You should also ensure that everyone who works with you knows what happened to be prepared to answer any questions.
Have you eaten at a two or three-star Michelin establishment? What was your experience? Do you use this guide to plan your trips?
This article was first published on Medium.com.