Rich Crocco

The Meaning Behind a Michelin Rating

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I spent this past weekend in Napa Valley and enjoyed some great food along with the fabulous wine the area has to offer. One restaurant my wife and I dined at was named Auberge du Soleil which sported a one-star Michelin rating. I knew that was a good thing however I didn’t understand any of the details behind the rating. I thought I would explain this rating system a bit here.

The Michelin Guide brand is owned by Michelin, yes the automotive company, and has been published since 1900. It was originally a guidebook for French motorists but slowly expanded during the 20’s and 30’s. In 1936 the ranking system was published which is still in use today:

One Star– “A very good restaurant in its category”

Two Stars – “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”

Three Stars – “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”

Now these descriptions seem a bit common to me, in practice I think it’s a little more like one-star = absolutely amazing, two-stars = off the charts and three stars = not even a normal restaurant, more like a tour of cuisine!

I found that most cities in the U.S. are not rated by the company. Not necessarily because there are no restaurants worthy of the rating, but instead because the guidebook simply has not put in the necessary time in those cities. The cities currently covered by Michelin include New York, Chicago, San Francisco & Northern California wine country.

The organization is highly secretive with reviewers, or inspectors as they are called, dining anonymously almost every day and night in their designated regions. All restaurant and travel expenses are paid by Michelin in an effort to keep the reviews pure. These inspectors are also what differentiates Michelin from a competitor such as Zagat as they are informed by customer reviews while Michelin reviews are all executed by agents of the company.

Although all of the ratings are tough to achieve, it seems the ‘easiest’ to attain is the move from zero to one star. Receiving enough publicity to get on Michelin’s radar can start the process of getting reviewed by their inspectors. At this point you would be considered a Rising Star. Rising Stars also refer to restaurants with the potential to move from one to two stars, or two to three. A new candidate will receive at least four visits as a rising star and the inspector will report on the following:

  1. Quality of the meal
  2. Service
  3. Décor
  4. Location

Of course the quality of the meal receives the greatest weight in the review. The reports are then reviewed by committees from Michelin headquarters and determinations are made regarding Michelin Star ratings. After achieving the one-star rating, there have been reports of chefs working for ten years or more to achieve the next step up!

In addition to the main Michelin rating, there is another more value oriented rating called Bib Gourmand. This rating is reserved for restaurants which offer the following: two courses, a glass of wine and dessert for $40 or less.

Not all restaurants want the coveted star rating however, it comes with a wealth of publicity and new customers. This also means more potential for negative press and overwhelming business, do you have the staff to keep up with increased demand as a result of the new rating? What kind of customer base do you have, that is, will customers flee if one bad review comes out over the internet?

Does a Michelin Star sway your decision to dine at a restaurant? Please leave me your comments.

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