The Michelin Star is one of the most well recognized hallmarks of restaurant quality in the world. Food lovers seek out restaurants with Michelin Star ratings, and even a single star rating is enough to make a restaurant see a huge increase in trade.
It may seem strange for the restaurant rating to be awarded by Michelin – a company that sells tires as its primary business – but the rating system has been around for many years and the company is highly successful. People put faith in it, so they must be doing something right!
Michelin awards between zero and three stars based on reviews. A zero star restaurant is not necessarily a bad place, just not quite up to Michelin’s exceptional standards. The reviews focus entirely on the quality of the food.
The Michelin restaurant guide does include forks and spoons as a rating of how ‘fancy’ or how ‘casual’ an establishment is, but Michelin Stars are defined purely by the quality of the food, the mastery of technique, and the consistency of the restaurant. Even things like decor, service and table settings are ignored for the purposes of awarding stars.
The Michelin Star system
One Star Restaurants
A one-star restaurant is considered to be a very good restaurant in the category that it covers. These restaurants are, by Michelin’s standards, a good place to stop if you are on a road tour. The food that they serve is consistently of a high standard.
Two Star Restaurants
A two-star restaurant is one that is worth going out of your way slightly to visit. The dishes are carefully and skillfully prepared, and the quality is outstanding.
Three Star Restaurants
Three star restaurants are ones that are worth making a special journey for. The food is exceptional, and the dishes are distinctive, prepared with the highest quality ingredients, and always prepared to the absolute highest standards.
There is one other rating, that of the Bib Gourmand, which is awarded to restaurants that offer quality food but at a great value price. The definition of ‘value’ will vary depending on the location – so ‘value’ in Northern England would be a lower price than value in Paris, for example.
Who Does the Reviews?
Michelin star ratings are given out by anonymous inspectors. The company started developing guidebooks in the early 1900s, and in 1926 they hit upon the idea of sending people to restaurants as normal customers, to determine the quality of the food. Today, they have a full-time staff of reviewers that are passionate about food, and that have an eye for detail.
The reviewers are skilled at blending in with the regular clientele in the establishment, and they will make notes about their visits, then meet with other reviewers to decide which establishments are worthy of what ratings. The reviewers are working to set, consistent criteria, which is what makes them so much more valuable than, say, Yelp or even Zagat.
The Value of The Star
Michelin’s star ratings are highly sought after because they are so rare. In a city with 500 restaurants, there many be 20 or 30 one star ratings handed out, and a handful of two star ratings. In Chicago, there was only one restaurant awarded a 3 star rating in 2014. That should show how demanding their reviewers are.
Some people have criticized the system, noting that there is a bias towards French cuisine, and that many reviewers favor formal dining over the more causal atmosphere that is in fashion today. There have even been accusations of reviewers pandering to the big-name chefs in certain cities.
The guidebooks are still highly respected, though, and this means that it is worth restaurant owners trying to appear in them. The best way to get a Michelin star is to write to Michelin and ask for an inspection.
Michelin will not tell restaurant owners when the inspection will take place – the visit could happen at any time within around 12 months of the owner writing to Michelin.
This means that it’s important that you are serving great food on a consistent basis. Michelin demands that star rated restaurants serve high quality food made from fresh, locally produced ingredients, so get that sorted out as a priority.
Michelin will send reviewers to make between three and six visits to your establishment, so your chefs need to be consistent and you need to always serve well-presented food.
You won’t get a warning if you get one star – but you will get a warning if you are going to be awarded two or three stars. Restaurants that are awarded one star will find out in March, when the next guidebook is published. So, only seek a star if you are confident that you will be able to keep up with the demand that comes with it.