If you’ve ever spent time reading about restaurant ratings, then you’ve probably heard of the term “Michelin Star” at some point. Whether you know what it is or how it works, however, is another story. What exactly is the Michelin Star rating and how does it work? Why do some restaurants have only one star while others have three, and how do they get them? Read on to find out.
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Behind the term “Michelin Star” is actually an elaborate restaurant rating system, the results of which could originally be found in the Michelin Red Guide, and annual publication that serves as a guide to European restaurants and other establishments. Thanks to the reputation that this system has developed over the years, how these chosen establishments are reviewed and rated greatly affects their success.
If you think that the name “Michelin” sounds familiar, then you are correct. The name refers to the tire company of the same brand – a interesting fact that few people realize. In fact, the Michelin Guide used to be a guide to help motorists find hotels and lodges as they travel along the highway.
Somehow, the publication evolved and eventually focused on exclusively rating restaurants. Soon enough, it became indispensable for people in the food industry. Chefs, foodies, gourmets, culinary experts, and all the players of the restaurant industry revere the publication as if it were the bible of fine dining.
What do the Stars Mean?
What do the Michelin Stars mean? There are basically three ratings, namely the one, two, and three star ratings.
One Star is also known as good. While it is the lowest rating in the system, not all restaurants get this, which means that getting that one star is recognition in itself. These restaurants are often considered to be good in their respective food category.
Two Stars denote excellent cooking. They mean somewhere is “worth a detour,” which means they’re the kind of restaurants that people should go out of their way to visit.
Three Stars is the highest rating. It usually means that the restaurant offers excellent cuisine and is expected to be one of the best in the world. They’re the kind of establishment that the reviewer thinks people would travel miles for just to taste their food. In the words of the reviewer, they are “worth a special journey.”
While there are other labels, like the “bib gourmand,” the system focuses mainly on those three ratings. Some of these additional labels signify that while a restaurant hasn’t been given a star yet, it’s up for consideration, which, to a certain extent, is a form of recognition as well.
How Does a Restaurant Get Reviewed?
Before the restaurant even gets considered for a rating, it has to first build up its own reputation, such as through websites, local magazines, blogs, and social media, eventually generating the kind of buzz that in the ears of a Michelin reviewer and puts them on the list. That’s when the painstakingly long review process begins.
How Does the Review Process Work?
This is where it gets tricky, as the Michelin Star ratings are riddled with grey areas. Of course, reviewing a restaurant is understandably subjective, but what makes the whole process complex is the fact that the company never really reveals their criteria for judging a restaurant. The entire system is shrouded in secrecy – like a restaurant’s secret recipe – but somehow, it’s able to maintain its integrity because it never takes ads or endorsements, giving an impression of impartiality.
More importantly, nobody really knows when a restaurant is being reviewed. An unknown reviewer visits the restaurant without the establishment or staff being aware of it. Should the visit from the mystery reviewer go well, the restaurant is set up for a second visit from another mystery reviewer. If all goes well after that, the restaurant is granted its first star.
It’s important to note that the stars are not earned in one sitting. They are earned separately through the same cycle of reviews, and in order for these stars to stack up, the restaurant has to go through a series of good reviews. In fact, one bad night with a reviewer could possibly ruin a restaurant’s chances of getting a good rating. Thus, one can say that the stars have to align for a restaurant to ever get a shot at getting more than one star, if at all.
What Criteria Do They Use?
Again, the Michelin Guide keeps their judging process a secret, so there’s no way for anyone to tell for sure what makes a restaurant worth a star or two in their eyes. But some keen observers have been able to deduce certain factors that do increase the chance of getting good reviews. Below are just some of them:
Mastery: If there’s one thing that we can learn from the star ratings, it’s that the restaurant is judged based on the category of food they specialize in. So obviously, an Italian restaurant should be judged based on the standards of ideal Italian cuisine. Otherwise, there’s no point in that establishment being the restaurant of its kind that’s “worth the journey.” Long story short, if you want to get a chance at a star with the kind of food you’re cooking, then you’ve got to be better at it than most.
Being Trained by Michelin-Star Chefs: Obviously, a chef who has been awarded a Michelin Star before knows what it takes to get that same recognition, but a connection to Michelin-Starred chefs can also influence the outcome of a restaurant’s review.
Attention to Detail: When it comes to quality cuisine, being meticulous is a key element. Anyone looking to get those stars will want to act like they’re always being reviewed by a mystery Michelin inspector, otherwise they might get caught off guard and lose their chance at being recognized. Besides, even if the mystery Michelin reviewer isn’t there, the fact that the restaurant is consistent with its service right down to the detail will get a lot of other reviews and recognition, which in turn will catch the attention of the Michelin Guide.
Discipline: As far as the Michelin standard is concerned, having good – even great – food is never enough. Each dish has to be cooked to perfection. Having enough discipline to put one’s heart and soul into each dish being prepared is not only an attractive quality in itself, but also links closely to the previous criteria.
Constant Improvement: Consistently investing in the improvement of the overall quality of the restaurant reflects the owner’s long-term goals for the business, which might contribute to its worthiness of a Michelin Star rating. Instead of hoarding profits, most Michelin Star restaurants are investing in better quality ingredients, enhanced environments, and better staff.
Creativity: Going back to how restaurants are judged according to their category, aspiring establishments will want to figure out a way to stand out from the competition. On top of being perfect with every dish, they also have to constantly reinvent their style in the hopes of coming up with something that will start new trends.
Of course, no one really knows what the exact criteria for judging a contender really are, but covering the list above can at least get the restaurant started with reviews.
Walk to Canossa
The term above originates from the historical act of King Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire asking for penance before the Pope. Now, it’s used to refer to the practice of chefs going to Paris in order to present their restaurant for consideration before the editors of the Michelin Guide. There, they get to make a case as to why their restaurant should be treated as a candidate for Michelin stardom. It’s no longer a common practice, but it does happen every once in a while.
As mentioned before, the system has had its fair share of criticism. Over the years it has been alleged that the system has a strong bias towards French cuisine or other formal dining atmospheres. This also implies that it does not give consideration to establishments that offer more casual dining.
In spite of this, however, two Singaporean hawker food stalls were granted a one-star rating. The stalls are famous for their delicious meals, which are sold for $2.00 USD. Explaining the reasoning for the award, they were described having “hit the ball out of the park” in terms of quality of ingredients, flavor, technique, and more – all of which fit right into the criteria discussed above.
Regardless of people’s opinions of the system, it goes without saying that the Michelin Guide has definitely made a mark in defining what’s hot and what’s not in the restaurant industry. Thus, they continue to guide travelers and food connoisseurs alike as to where they should go if they want to sample the best cuisine in some parts of the world.