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Emma Valdiserri

What Is a Michelin Star? | Guide to Michelin Star Programs

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What Is a Michelin Star?: Michelin Star Guide

If you’re a fan of fine dining, you’ve likely heard of the famous Michelin Star. If not, you may be asking, “What is a Michelin Star?” It's one of those terms you hear when people are talking about foodie and restaurant lingo. We’re here to break it down for you.

Michelin Stars are awarded to restaurants that go beyond expectations regarding the food they serve. While the quality of a restaurant’s food is the gateway to a Michelin Star, other factors like customer service are also taken into account.

If you land amongst the Michelin stars, you’ve hit the culinary jackpot of restaurant marketing. Your restaurant and bar staff can expect a high ROI (return on investment) for all the time and money you’ve spent on your business. Customers will be racing to book reservations.

The Michelin star has quite the origin story–and one that has very little to do with the culinary arts. In fact, the star-rating system all started with car tires in a tiny French town.

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History of the Michelin Star: What Is the Michelin Guide?

So, what is the Michelin Star all about? As witnesses to the growing automobile industry in France, brothers Edouard and Andre Michelin wanted to advance technology. In 1889, they founded the world-famous Michelin tire company in a small French town by the name of Clermont-Ferrand.

They also wanted to provide travelers with helpful information for their trips. This sparked the creation of the Michelin guide. It included roadmaps and information on things like where to fill up on fuel and how to change a tire.

The Michelin guide was initially free for any traveler. Once the brothers realized the value of the knowledge held between its pages, they launched a new version in 1920. Priced at seven francs (roughly $7.50), the guide grew in fame throughout the 1920s, offering lists of popular hotels and restaurants in Paris. Next came the stars.

In 1926, the guide awarded fine dining restaurants with a single star. Later in 1931, the rating system evolved into the three-star ranking structure we see today. Finally, in 1936, the guide published its criteria for star rankings.

In 1955, the guide introduced another feature called the Bib Gourmand. This reward accounts for a country or region’s economic status and implies that a restaurant offers high quality food at moderate prices. This makes fine dining more accessible for those who want the experience without exceeding their budget.

Whether you’re a Michelin-star receiver, an aspiring one, or simply curious, here are the classified star rankings from one to three:

  1. One star: A very good restaurant in its category.
  2. Two stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
  3. Three stars: Exquisite cuisine, worth a special journey.

To this day, earning one, two, or three Michelin stars is a major milestone for any restaurant business in the industry.

Looking at the rating criteria, you may ask yourself, “Who ranks the restaurants?” During the 1920s, the Michelin brothers hired a team of undercover restaurant-goers, known as Michelin Inspectors.

What Is a Michelin Inspector?

A Michelin inspector is like a private detective for quality food. They’re known for their culinary expertise and vast passion for food. Since they visit restaurants unannounced, they must blend in with the crowd.

The Michelin inspectors must also have avid attention to detail when they critique their food. This is just one of the many qualities it takes to become a Michelin Inspector. Candidates undergo rigorous processes to demonstrate their knowledge and rich palette. 

The inspectors follow these five rating criteria when visiting and reviewing restaurants:

  1. Quality of products (fresh produce for example).
  2. Expertise in cooking and flavor techniques.
  3. The personality of the Michelin Star chefs during the dining experience.
  4. Monetary value.
  5. Consistency between visits.

While Michelin Inspectors primarily focus on the quality of the food, they also account for their overall dining experience. They’re always on their A-game, which means any restaurant owner and executive chef should be too.

Like any restaurant, a Michelin Star restaurant must have expert-level inventory tracking skills (see: inventory control and what is inventory). They’ll want to monitor their restaurant expenses and offer excellent customer service to make sure their patrons don’t dine and dash

What Is a Michelin Star Restaurant?

A Michelin Star restaurant is a business that has received one, two, or three Michelin stars. These restaurants are few and far between considering the criteria they have to meet. If you have the chance to dine at one, be sure to enjoy every last sip and bite.

All types of chefs work at Michelin Star restaurants to offer different menu types and a memorable dining experience. From a prix fixe menu to a mouth-watering dessert menu, there’s a Michelin Star restaurant for every person and occasion.

A Michelin Star restaurant can express its culinary creativity by reinventing a standardized recipe or various popular cocktails. Doing so can impress customers enough to make another reservation as soon as possible.

Restaurants with a sommelier (see: sommelier definition) can offer a food and wine pairing menu. They can also recommend wine and cheese pairings and teach their guests the importance of swirling wine. In other words, you don’t want to miss out on the world of Michelin Star restaurants.

France, Japan, and Italy are the top three countries with the most Michelin Star restaurants. The United States didn’t come into play with Michelin Star ratings until 2005. Even then, the focus was on fine-dining venues in New York City.

Now, the annual Michelin Guide covers restaurants in many cities across the country like Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. The US has nearly 200 Michelin Star restaurants. If you ever find yourself dining at one, you’re guaranteed to find love at first bite.

How Do You Get a Michelin Star?

A restaurant really makes its mark when it receives a Michelin Star. Customer reviews on Yelp reviews don't cut it. Instead, the Michelin Inspectors use the five main criteria above to decide if a restaurant should receive this culinary prestige. 

If you think those criteria are tough, think again. Inspections are not a one-and-done deal. In this regard, consistency is key. Inspectors may come back between three to six times before they report their criteria to other inspectors. From there, the group makes a mutual decision on whether they’re going to give the restaurant a star.

In addition, Michelin Stars are awarded to restaurants, not chefs. This means that chefs who operate more than one restaurant can have more than three stars.

However, most restaurants that fall under inspection receive zero stars. Restaurants can even lose Michelin stars. Inspectors revisit restaurants that have one or more stars to ensure the business is consistent over time and throughout their menu.

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Frequently Asked Questions About “What Is a Michelin Star?”

What Makes a Restaurant a Michelin Star?

Restaurants receive Michelin stars based on their excellent cooking. Beyond that, Michelin Stars also account for factors like quality of ingredients, technique, and a restaurant’s consistency of service over time.

Who Has the Most Michelin Stars?

The late Joël Robuchon holds the title for the most Michelin Stars at a total of 31. Following Robuchon’s success stands Alain Ducasse. He has 21 stars to show for his culinary talents. Their names are legend among the top 25 Michelin Star restaurants.

Why Is It Called a Michelin Star?

The Michelin name comes from the Michelin brothers, Andre and Edouard. They founded the famous tire company in 1889 and produced the Michelin guide that has evolved into the star-ranking system widely used today.

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