Michelin Guides (French: Guide Michelin [?id mi?.l??]) are a series of guide books published by the French tire 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 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 countries.
In 1900, fewer than 3,000 cars graced the roads of France. To boost the demand for cars and, accordingly, car tires, brothers and car tire manufacturers Édouard and André Michelin published the first edition of a guide for French motorists, the Michelin Guide. The brothers printed nearly 35,000 copies of this first, free edition of the Michelin Guide, which 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 to Belgium similar to the Michelin Guide.
The brothers 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); the British Isles (1911); and "The Countries of the Sun" (Les Pays du Soleil) (northern Africa, southern Italy and Corsica) (1911). In 1909, the Michelin Guide for France saw its first English-language version published.
During the First World War, publication of the guide was suspended. After the war, revised editions of the guide continued to be given away until 1920. The company's website recounts the story that André Michelin, 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," the brothers decided to charge a price for the guide, which was about 750 francs or $2.15 in 1954. They also made several changes, notably: listing restaurants by specific categories; the debut of hotel listings (initially only for Paris); and the abandonment of 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 careful in maintaining anonymity.
In 1926, the guide began to award stars for fine dining establishments. 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:
In 1931 the cover of the guide was changed from blue to red, and has remained so in all subsequent editions. During the Second World War, 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 November 2005 Michelin produced its first American guide, concentrating on New York, covering 500 restaurants in the city's five boroughs and 50 hotels (Manhattan only). 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 to the list of Michelin Guides. The Michelin website in 2013 notes that the guide is published in 14 editions covering 23 countries and sold in nearly 90 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."
Red Guides have historically listed many more restaurants than rival guides have done, relying on an extensive system of symbols to describe each establishment in as little as two lines. Reviews of starred restaurants also include two to three culinary specialities. Recently, short summaries (2-3 lines) have been added 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 completely anonymous; they do not identify themselves, and their meals and expenses are paid for by the company founded by the Michelin brothers, never by a restaurant being reviewed. In 2009 The New Yorker said:
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, each year, at the time the guide is published, 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 "exceptional 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|
(EUR29, EUR35 in Paris area)
|over 4,900 hotels and guest houses,
|Belgium and Luxembourg||2012 Edition||3||16||99||140 (EUR35 or less)||over 700 hotels and guest houses,
(EUR35 or less)
|over 4,200 hotels and guest houses,
2,100 restaurants, 4,287 hotels
|Great Britain and Ireland||2017 Edition||4||21||147||143
(£28 or EUR40)
|over 1,200 hotels, guest houses,
2,100 restaurants, pubs
|Italy||2012 Edition||7||38||250||260 (EUR35)||over 3,700 hotels and guest houses,
|over 600 hotels and guest houses,
|Spain and Portugal||2014 Edition (preview)||8||17||134||219
(EUR35 or less)
|over 1,775 hotels and guest houses,
1,549 restaurants, 130 tapas bars
|over 800 hotels and guest houses,
|City||Release date||Bib Gourmand||Establishments|
|Paris||2012 Edition||10||17||50||70 (EUR35)||60 hotels, 453 restaurants|
|Chicago||2017 Edition||2||5||19||52 ($40)||400 restaurants|
|Hong Kong and Macau||2012 Edition||5||13||51||64 (HK$300 or MOP$300)||272 restaurants, 60 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 (suspended)||21 October 2008||0||4||16||263 restaurants, 27 hotels (2007)|
|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|
|San Francisco and Bay Area||2017 Edition||6||7||41||75 ($40)||513 restaurants|
|Seoul||2017 Edition||2||3||19||36 (?35,000 or less)||145 restaurants, 35 hotels|
|Shanghai||2017 Edition||1||7||18||25 (?200 or less)||TBC|
|Singapore||2017 Edition||1||7||30||38 (S$45)||TBC|
|292 restaurants, 54 hotels and 10 ryokans|
With the blurring of lines between restaurants and other eateries, Michelin is adapting too. From 2014, it had a separate listing for gastropubs in Ireland. The 2016 Guide for Hong Kong and Macau introduced an overview of notable street food establishments. The Singapore guide that year 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 coloured 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.
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 sights ranging from "worth a trip" to "worth a detour", and "interesting".
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 Puts 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 favouritism. 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."
Some non-French food critics have alleged that the rating system is biased in favour 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 acknowledge that the restaurant received positive mention for its ambience, and that two other restaurants owned by Meyer received stars). Kurutz also claimed the guide appeared to favour restaurants that "emphasized formality and presentation" rather than a "casual approach to fine dining". He also claimed that 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.
In 2010 Michelin guides ranked Japan as the country with the most starred restaurants. This sparked questioning 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 tire-selling company to market itself in Japan.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 décor. Some cases:
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