Michelin’s rating system for restaurants is probably the best known in the world.
It awards establishments from one to three stars to indicate the quality of the food that can be expected. Not surprisingly, restaurants and their chefs covet these Michelin stars because they reflect well on their culinary prowess and are also a factor in their financial success. Diners too rely on them to help choose a fine dining experience.
At present, more than 2,000 restaurants around the world have one or more Michelin stars, of which the vast majority have one or two stars. Only about 100 restaurants have the top, three-star rating. Twelve of them are in the United States — six in New York, two in Chicago and four on the west coast in California. A further seven are in Hong Kong and Macau while in France, where the Michelin guides first started, there are 25.
According to Michelin, stars are given to restaurants on the basis of the food alone. The anonymous inspectors, who are employed full-time by Michelin, visit restaurants where they consider the quality of the products used, the mastery of flavors and cooking, the personality of the chef as revealed through his or her cuisine, value for money, and consistency in what the restaurant offers to its customers both throughout the menu and the year. Michelin defines its rating system as follows:
• One star indicates a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard. A good place to stop on a journey.
• Two stars denote excellent cuisine, skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality.Worth a detour.
• Three stars mean exceptional cuisine where diners can eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients. Worth a special journey.
The Michelin guide books, which contain both hotel and restaurant recommendations for particular countries or cities, including the starred restaurants, are published annually. They cover 24 countries, most of them in Europe. It was only in 2006 that Michelin expanded its outlook and included the United States in its coverage but this is still limited to New York, Chicago and California. A few other countries outside Europe have followed, including Japan and China (specifically Hong Kong and Macau).
The first ever Michelin guide was published in France more than 100 years ago in 1900. It was given away free of charge to motorists who were few in number at that time (France had only 3,000 cars on the roads) and had information about the location of petrol stations and garages, as well as where to find food and accommodation. Michelin’s idea was to encourage drivers to travel further afield and thus boost the fledgling motor industry and the demand for tires. The company was founded in France in 1889 to manufacture tires. It has since become one of the three largest tire makers in the world (alongside Bridgestone and Goodyear) with net sales in 2014 of Euro19.6 billion (about $22 billion).
In 1920, Michelin began to charge for its guides which had become increasingly popular, especially the restaurant section. In that year, it also set up a team of anonymous inspectors to visit restaurants and assess them according to specific classification guidelines. A star system was started for restaurants six years later and by 1936 it had become the three-star system that is in use today.
Michelin insists that in its guides there are restaurants that will appeal to all tastes and budgets, but for connoisseurs of good food with more money to spend than the average diner, it is the starred restaurants, and particularly the three-starred establishments, that will attract their attention. To give an indication of the prices charged by some three-star restaurants, Benu in San Francisco offers a tasting menu of many different dishes for $228 per person while Per Se in New York offers a tasting menu for $331 per person.
In Hong Kong, Chinese restaurant Bo Innovation has a tasting menu for about $215.