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How restaurants get Michelin stars

Ever wondered how restaurants earn Michelin stars? Or how the Michelin stars rating system came to life?


Here at The Cooking School we thought you should get to know the whole story. After all, some of the chefs we're teaching may one day aspire to work in one of the prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants.

The Michelin Guide's origins can be traced back to the turn of the twentieth century, and were inspired by a surprising turn of events that had nothing to do with cuisine.

The Michelin Guide's Surprising Origins

Surprisingly, the Michelin Star rating was invented at the same time as the automobile. Michelin Tire founders and French industrialist brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin compiled the first Michelin Guide in 1900. The guide's goal was to generate demand for automobiles, and thus Michelin tires.

The first Michelin Guide was printed in 35,000 copies and included maps as well as instructions for repairing and changing tires. It also included a directory of restaurants, hotels, mechanics, and gas stations along popular French routes.

Because there were only a few hundred cars in France, the guide was distributed for free in the hopes of increasing demand for automobiles. Within its first decade, the Michelin Guide rapidly expanded and became available throughout Europe and Northern Africa. Although the guides contained useful information about restaurants, the Michelin brothers' ultimate goal was to generate sales and profit for their tire company.

The Michelin Star Rating System's Evolution

With Two World Wars, the Guide Adapts

The guide's production was temporarily halted when World War I broke out in 1914, but it was resumed by 1920. At this point, the Michelin brothers decided to improve the guide's quality, eliminate advertising, and begin charging for it.

In 1926, the first Michelin Star ratings were issued. If a restaurant was deemed a "fine dining establishment," it was awarded a single star. The rating system was expanded in 1931 to become the Michelin three-star rating, which is still in use today.

In contrast to most star rating systems, one star is not a negative. Any number of Michelin Stars awarded to a restaurant is seen as a huge honor and an accomplishment like no other.

Michelin Guide Star Rating Descriptions

  • One star: A very good restaurant in its category.

  • Two stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour.

  • Three stars: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.

The guide was discontinued during World War II and was not resumed until late 1939 as it contained maps useful to the Allies. However, due to food shortages, the Michelin star rating was downgraded to his two star system during this time. Unsurprisingly, the quality has declined in restaurants across Europe, so bars have been adjusted accordingly.

In 1955, Michelin introduced the Bib Gourmand, a rating system that recognizes restaurants that offer quality food at affordable prices. This system emphasizes dietary options that more closely reflect more economical criteria. Ratings are adjusted by region and country based on cost of living, so Bib Gourmand offers guests the opportunity to eat well without breaking the bank.

21st Century Michelin Guide

Michelin star ratings did not become popular in the United States until 2005. It started by focusing exclusively on fine dining in New York City. The Michelin Guide currently rates restaurants in select US cities, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. If one of your aspiring chef goals is to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant, these cities might be the cities you want to focus on after you graduate.

This guide currently covers 37 countries in Europe, Asia, North America and South America.

How can a restaurant earn a Michelin star?

First, the Michelin Guide team selects a number of restaurants in specific locations and anonymous reviewers research them. After visiting selected restaurants, the inspector will prepare a comprehensive report on the overall dining experience, including food quality and presentation, as well as other evaluation criteria. Details are provided below. A group of Michelin inspectors then meet to analyze the report and discuss in detail which restaurants deserve a Michelin star (or two or three).

While restaurant factors such as ambiance, decor and quality of service are reportedly not considered in the report, many believe it's not the overall experience that unwittingly attracts critics.

How important are Michelin stars?

Undoubtedly, restaurants that have been awarded a Michelin star are filled with pride, gain prestige, and generally get a boost in brand awareness and business. However, due to the extremely high expectations of the rating system, there is a growing tendency to reject Michelin stars worldwide some restaurateurs are even calling for their star rating to be removed. They consider star system expectations to be unreasonable and limit a chef's creativity in the kitchen. Yet there is a reverence in today's culinary industry for the legendary Michelin star system. Some restaurateurs go so far as to say it’s the only rating that matters because it’s authentic since Michelin inspectors are among the few who remain completely anonymous when reviewing a restaurant.

Although some restaurants claim to have learned how to tell who an inspector is, in theory the casual diner will have the exact same experience as the inspector. And if a restaurant is attentive enough to figure out the signals a Michelin Star inspector gives away, then that’s a restaurant that pays very close attention to its craft, and is probably worth a visit!

Want to Take the first step towards excellence?

Although chefs do not earn Michelin stars, a restaurant's head chef is often credited with the restaurant's success. Therefore, many young chefs dream of someday bringing a restaurant to Michelin Star status.

One way to start this journey is to attend The Cooking School. As we introduce students to a wide range of subjects including food safety, world cuisines, taste development, and entrepreneurship. But students don't just learn these topics in the classroom - they practice them in the kitchen and eventually put them to the test during a culinary internship. To find out more about what The Cooking School could be like for you, contact us today to explore your options.

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