Michelin Guides (French: Guide Michelin [ɡid miʃ.lɛ̃]) are a series of guide books published by the French tyre company Michelin for more than a century. The term normally refers to the annually published Michelin Red Guide, the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide, which awards up to three Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments. The acquisition or loss of a star can have dramatic effects on the success of a restaurant. Michelin also publishes a series of general guides to cities, regions, and countries, the Green Guides.
In 1900, there were fewer than 3,000 cars on the roads of France. To increase the demand for cars and, accordingly, car tires, car tire manufacturers and brothers Édouard and André Michelin published a guide for French motorists, the Michelin Guide. Nearly 35,000 copies of this first, free edition of the guide were distributed; it provided useful information to motorists, such as maps, tire repair and replacement instructions, car mechanics listings, hotels, and petrol stations throughout France.
Four years later, in 1904, the brothers published a guide for Belgium similar to the Michelin Guide.
Michelin subsequently introduced guides for Algeria and Tunisia (1907); the Alps and the Rhine (northern Italy, Switzerland, Bavaria, and the Netherlands) (1908); Germany, Spain, and Portugal (1910); Ireland and the British Isles (1911); and "The Countries of the Sun" (Les Pays du Soleil) (Northern Africa, Southern Italy and Corsica) (1911). In 1909, an English-language version of the guide to France was published.
During World War I, publication of the guide was suspended. After the war, revised editions of the guide continued to be given away until 1920. It is said that André Michelin, whilst visiting a tire merchant, noticed copies of the guide being used to prop up a workbench. Based on the principle that "man only truly respects what he pays for", Michelin decided to charge a price for the guide, which was about 750 francs or $2.15 in 1922. They also made several changes, notably listing restaurants by specific categories, adding hotel listings (initially only for Paris), and removing advertisements in the guide. Recognizing the growing popularity of the restaurant section of the guide, the brothers recruited a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants, who were always anonymous.
Following the usage of the Murray's and Baedeker guides, the guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments in 1926. Initially, there was only a single star awarded. Then, in 1931, the hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced. Finally, in 1936, the criteria for the starred rankings were published:
- : "A very good restaurant in its category" (Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie)
- : "Excellent cooking, worth a detour" (Table excellente, mérite un détour)
- : "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey" (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage).
In 1931 the cover of the guide was changed from blue to red, and has remained so in all subsequent editions. During World War II, publication was again suspended, but in 1944, at the request of the Allied Forces, the 1939 guide to France was specially reprinted for military use; its maps were judged the best and most up-to-date available. Publication of the annual guide resumed on 16 May 1945, a week after VE Day.
In the early post-war years the lingering effects of wartime shortages led Michelin to impose an upper limit of two stars; by 1950 the French edition listed 38 establishments judged to meet this standard. The first Michelin Guide to Italy was published in 1956. It awarded no stars in the first edition. In 1974, the first guide to Britain since 1931 was published. Twenty-five stars were awarded.
In 2005, Michelin published its first American guide, covering 500 restaurants in the five boroughs of New York City and 50 hotels in Manhattan. In 2007, a Tokyo Michelin Guide was launched. In the same year, the guide introduced a magazine, Étoile. In 2008, a Hong Kong and Macau volume was added. As of 2013, the guide is published in 14 editions covering 23 countries.
In 2008, the German restaurateur Juliane Caspar was appointed editor-in-chief of the French edition of the guide. She had previously been responsible for the Michelin guides to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. She became the first woman and first non-French national to occupy the French position. The German newspaper Die Welt commented on the appointment, "In view of the fact German cuisine is regarded as a lethal weapon in most parts of France, this decision is like Mercedes announcing that its new director of product development is a Martian."
Methods and layout
Red Guides have historically listed many more restaurants than rival guides, relying on an extensive system of symbols to describe each one in as little as two lines. Reviews of starred restaurants also include two to three culinary specialties. Short summaries (2–3 lines) were added in 2002/2003 to enhance descriptions of many establishments. These summaries are written in the language of the country for which the guide is published (though the Spain and Portugal volume is in Spanish only) but the symbols are the same throughout all editions.
Michelin reviewers (commonly called "inspectors") are anonymous; they do not identify themselves, and their meals and expenses are paid for by Michelin, never by a restaurant being reviewed:
Michelin has gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain the anonymity of its inspectors. Many of the company's top executives have never met an inspector; inspectors themselves are advised not to disclose their line of work, even to their parents (who might be tempted to boast about it); and, in all the years that it has been putting out the guide, Michelin has refused to allow its inspectors to speak to journalists. The inspectors write reports that are distilled, in annual "stars meetings" at the guide's various national offices, into the ranking of three stars, two stars, or one star—or no stars. (Establishments that Michelin deems unworthy of a visit are not included in the guide.)
The French chef Paul Bocuse, one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine in the 1960s, said, "Michelin is the only guide that counts." In France, when the guide is published each year, it sparks a media frenzy which has been compared to that for annual Academy Awards for films. Media and others debate likely winners, speculation is rife, and TV and newspapers discuss which restaurant might lose, and who might gain a Michelin star.
The Michelin Guide also awards "Rising Stars", an indication that a restaurant has the potential to qualify for a star, or an additional star.
Since 1955, the guide has also highlighted restaurants offering "exceptionally good food at moderate prices", a feature now called "Bib Gourmand". They must offer menu items priced below a maximum determined by local economic standards. Bib (Bibendum) is the company's nickname for the Michelin Man, its corporate logo for over a century.
|Country||Release date||Bib Gourmand||Establishments|
(€32, €36 in Paris area)
|over 3,222 hotels and guest houses,
|Belgium and Luxembourg||2012 Edition||3||16||99||140 (€35 or less)||over 700 hotels and guest houses,
(€35 or less)
|over 4,200 hotels and guest houses,
2,100 restaurants, 4,287 hotels
|Great Britain and Ireland||2020 Edition||5||23||159||131
(£28 or €40)
|over 340 hotels, guest houses,
|Italy||2012 Edition||7||38||250||260 (€35)||over 3,700 hotels and guest houses,
|over 600 hotels and guest houses,
|Nordic Countries||2019 Edition||3||10||51||168
|Spain and Portugal||2018 Edition||11||25||177||253
(€35 or less)
|over 1,775 hotels and guest houses,
1,549 restaurants, 130 tapas bars
(CHF70 or less)
|458 hotels and guest houses,
|City||Release date||Bib Gourmand||Establishments|
|Paris||2012 Edition||10||17||50||70 (€35)||60 hotels, 453 restaurants|
|Chicago||2018 Edition||2||4||19||54 ($40)||400 restaurants|
|Hong Kong and Macau||2019 Edition||10||17||55||80 (HK$350 or MOP$350)||297 restaurants, 61 hotels|
|Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara||2012 Edition||15||61||224||40
|296 restaurants, 48 hotels, 41 ryokans|
|Las Vegas (suspended)||21 October 2008||1||3||13||127 restaurants, 30 hotels (2007)|
|London||2012 Edition||2||7||46||45 (£28)||450 restaurants, 50 hotels|
|Los Angeles||3 June 2019||0||6||18||62|
|Main Cities of Europe||17 March 2010||15||55||271||231||1,715 restaurants, 1,542 hotels|
|New York City||2017 Edition||6||10||61||132 ($40)||857|
|Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo||2018 edition||0||3||15||33 (R$ 90)|
|San Francisco and Bay Area||2017 Edition||6||7||41||75 ($40)||513 restaurants|
|Seoul||2020 Edition||2||7||22||60 (₩35,000 or less)||174 restaurants, 36 hotels|
|Shanghai||2020 Edition||1||8||31||24 (￥200 or less)||TBC|
|Singapore||2017 Edition||1||7||30||38 (S$45)||TBC|
|292 restaurants, 54 hotels and 10 ryokans|
|Washington, DC||2017 Edition||1||2||15||44
|182 restaurants (18 starred, 44 bib gourmand, 120 plated)|
|Bangkok, Phuket, Phang-nga||2020 Edition||0||5||24||94
|280 restaurants, 22 hotels|
|Taipei||2019 Edition||1||5||18||36 (NT$1,500 or less)||158 restaurants (2019), 25 hotels (2018)|
|Canton（Guangzhou）||2019 Edition||0||1||10||28 (¥200 or less)|
In 2014, Michelin introduced a separate listing for gastropubs in Ireland. In 2016, the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau introduced an overview of notable street food establishments. Additionally in 2016, the Singapore guide introduced the first Michelin stars for street food locations, for Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.
All listed restaurants, regardless of their star or Bib Gourmand status, also receive a "fork and spoon" designation, as a subjective reflection of the overall comfort and quality of the restaurant. Rankings range from one to five: one fork and spoon represents a "comfortable restaurant" and five signifies a "luxurious restaurant". Forks and spoons colored red designate a restaurant that is considered "pleasant" as well.
Restaurants, independently of their other ratings in the guide, can also receive a number of other symbols next to their listing.
- Coins indicate restaurants that serve a menu for a certain price or less, depending on the local monetary standard. In 2010 France, 2011 US and Japan Red Guides, the maximum permitted "coin" prices were €19, $25, and ¥5000, respectively.
- Interesting view or Magnificent view, designated by a black or red symbol, are given to restaurants offering those features.
- Grapes, a sake set, or a cocktail glass indicate restaurants that offer, at minimum, a "somewhat interesting" selection of wines, sake, or cocktails, respectively.
The Michelin Green Guides review and rate attractions other than restaurants. There is a Green Guide for France as a whole, and a more detailed one for each of ten regions within France. Other Green Guides cover many countries, regions, and cities outside France. Many Green Guides are published in several languages. They include background information and an alphabetical section describing points of interest. Like the Red Guides, they use a three-star system for recommending sites ranging from "worth a trip" to "worth a detour", and "interesting".
Allegations of lax inspection standards and bias
Pascal Rémy, a veteran France-based Michelin inspector, and also a former Gault Millau employee, wrote a tell-all book published in 2004 entitled L'Inspecteur se met à table (literally, "The Inspector Sits Down at the Table"; idiomatically, "The Inspector Spills the Beans", or "The Inspector Lays It All on the Table"). Rémy's employment was terminated in December 2003 when he informed Michelin of his plans to publish his book. He brought a court case for unfair dismissal, which was unsuccessful.
Rémy described the French Michelin inspector's life as lonely, underpaid drudgery, driving around France for weeks on end, dining alone, under intense pressure to file detailed reports on strict deadlines. He maintained that the guide had become lax in its standards. Though Michelin states that its inspectors visited all 4,000 reviewed restaurants in France every 18 months, and all starred restaurants several times a year, Rémy said only about one visit every 3½ years was possible because there were only 11 inspectors in France when he was hired, rather than the 50 or more hinted by Michelin. That number, he said, had shrunk to five by the time he was fired in December 2003.
Rémy also accused the guide of favoritism. He alleged that Michelin treated famous and influential chefs, such as Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse, as "untouchable" and not subject to the same rigorous standards as lesser-known chefs. Michelin denied Rémy's charges, but refused to say how many inspectors it actually employed in France. In response to Rémy's statement that certain three-star chefs were sacrosanct, Michelin said, "There would be little sense in saying a restaurant was worth three stars if it weren't true, if for no other reason than that the customer would write and tell us."
Allegations of prejudice for French cuisine
Some non-French food critics have alleged that the rating system is biased in favor of French cuisine or French dining standards. In the UK The Guardian commented in 1997 that "some people maintain the guide's principal purpose is as a tool of Gallic cultural imperialism". When Michelin published its first New York City Red Guide in 2005 Steven Kurutz of The New York Times noted that Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe, a restaurant rated highly by The New York Times, Zagat Survey, and other prominent guides, received a no star-rating from Michelin (he did, however, acknowledge that the restaurant received positive mention for its ambiance, and that two other restaurants owned by Meyer received stars). Kurutz also said the guide appeared to favor restaurants that "emphasized formality and presentation" rather than a "casual approach to fine dining". He said over half of the restaurants that received one or two stars "could be considered French". The Michelin Guide New York 2007 included 526 restaurants, compared to 2,014 in Zagat New York 2007; after The Four Seasons Restaurant received no stars in that edition, co-owner Julian Niccolini said Michelin "should stay in France, and they should keep their guide there". The 2007 guide does, however, include menus, recipes, and photographs, and description of the atmosphere of starred restaurants.
Allegations of leniency with stars for Japanese cuisine
In 2007 Tokyo's restaurants were awarded with the most stars and in 2010 other Japanese cities like Kyoto and Osaka also received many stars. At the time this sparked questions from some over whether these high ratings were merited for Japanese restaurants, or whether the Michelin guide was too generous in giving out stars to gain an acceptance with Japanese customers and to enable the parent tyre-selling company to market itself in Japan. But the discrepancy is easily explained by the number of restaurants in total: Tokyo has 160,000 restaurants while Paris for example has just 40,000. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2010 that some Japanese chefs were surprised at receiving a star, and were reluctant to accept one, because the publicity caused an unmanageable jump in booking, affecting their ability to serve their traditional customers without lowering their quality.
Some restaurateurs have asked Michelin to revoke a star, because they felt that it created undesirable customer expectations or pressure to spend more on service and decor. Some cases:
- Casa Julio (Fontanars dels Alforins, Spain): After receiving a star for a perfumed cuisine in 2009, the restaurant chef Julio Biosca felt the award was granted to dishes that he did not like and restricted his creativity, and tried to remove his star and in December 2013, discontinued his tasting menu. The removal took place in the 2015 guide.
- Petersham Nurseries Café (London): After receiving a star in 2011, founder and chef Skye Gyngell received complaints from customers expecting formal dining, leading to her attempt to remove the star, and subsequent retirement from the restaurant. She has now said she regrets her remarks and would welcome a star.
- 't Huis van Lede (Belgium): After receiving a star in 2014, chef Frederick Dhooge said he did not want his Michelin star or his points in the Gault-Millau restaurant guide because some customers were not interested in simple food from a Michelin-starred restaurant.
- In 2017, the Bouche à Oreille café in Bourges was accidentally given a star when it was confused with a restaurant of the same name in Boutervilliers, near Paris.
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Published in the 20th century
- Michelin Guide to the British Isles, London: Michelin Tyre Company, 1913, OL 14022740M (+ List of excursions)
- Amiens before and during the war, Clermont-Ferrand: Michelin and Cie, 1919, OCLC 887914, OL 13521961M
- Michelin Guide to the Battlefields of the World War, Milltown, N.J.: Michelin, 1919, OL 24432211M
- Strasbourg (in French), Clermont-Ferrand: Michelin & Cie, 1919, OL 24638163M
- St. Quentin-Cambrai (in French), Clermont-Ferrand: Michelin & cie, 1921, OL 24786012M
Published in the 21st century
- Trois étoiles au Michelin: Une histoire de la haute gastronomie française et européenne, by Jean-François Mesplède and Alain Ducasse, 2004. ISBN 2-7000-2468-0. Follows the 60-odd chefs who have been awarded three stars.
- The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, by Rudolph Chelminski, 2006. ISBN 978-0-14-102193-5. The story of Bernard Loiseau.
- From behind the wall: Danish Newspaper Berlingske Employee 'Awards'
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