Travel and dining have become increasingly popular entertainments—holidays abroad or a night out on the town can be an excellent way to spend time with family and friends or discover your world on your own. But how do you know the best places to go? If you’re new in town, just visiting, or looking to explore something new, how can you ensure a quality experience?
The French company Michelin has had the interests of gourmands and cultured travellers in mind for more than a century. They publish an annual guide that critiques and offers reviews for guests to the best hotels and restaurants in a number of cities internationally. They also offer limited reference materials for travellers looking to maximize their time whilst travelling.
Introducing the guide that has been the traveller’s best friend for more than a century and offer some background on how you can use it to make the most of your experiences, both abroad and at home.
Free With Purchase: An Early History
At first, the Michelin guide wasn’t intended to be the ultimate guide to dining and travel. The first edition, printed in 1900 by the Michelin brothers, was actually introduced as a way to sell more tires, since Michelin was a French tire manufacturer. Because there were only about 3000 automobiles in the country at the time, the brothers needed a way to encourage more people to drive, so they would naturally require more tires. This brainwave first pressing included maps, travel information, tips for repairing and changing tires, and a list of known petrol stations and hotels along travel routes.
Over the next decade, the brothers published similar guides for countries beyond France’s borders—Belgium (1904); Tunisia and Algeria (1907); the first English-language guide to France (1909); Germany, Spain, and Portugal (1910); and the countries of North Africa and Southern Europe (1911). While the printing was suspended during the First World War, it was resumed with energy immediately after peace was declared and revised editions were also given away until 1920.
Value and Valuations: The Beginning of the Review System
While the guide was initially intended to promote tire sales and included advertisements for related products in its pages, once the Michelin brothers realized that people would value the guide more if they were charged for it, they made some changes. Those changes turned out to be rather influential, as we will see. In addition to cutting out the advertisements, they began listing restaurants by category and Parisian hotels. Unbeknownst to them, they also started a trend that would become the rule rather than the exception.
Recruiting a team of inspectors, they began sending them to critique the restaurants in Paris and beyond. They were very strict about maintaining their anonymity in the beginning, though as the practice has become broadly accepted, reviewers are an open secret among restaurateurs. While at first the reviews were general and based on the discretion of the inspector, 1926 saw the inauguration of the star system. It began with a single star, but in 1926 the system was expanded to include three star level rankings for restaurants. By 1931, the criteria for these rankings were published and began to be a vied-for goal for restaurant owners.
Michelin Star : Meanings, Rankings, and Coverage
Today, while the star rankings have become rather common parlance, what do they actually mean? How do reviewers arrive at a ranking decision? How can you use the ranking system in the guide to make the most of your dining choices and adventures? Below, we’ll discuss what the stars mean for you as a diner, why restaurant proprietors seek them after, and where the reviews are primarily done in the world. While today the guide reviews establishments in 22 countries worldwide, until 2006, only Europe received substantial coverage. Other cities in North America and Asia received partial consideration in the ancillary tourist guides to major cities published by Michelin.
One Michelin Star
This denotes very good cooking in its category. While it is the lowest ranking in the three-star system, to earn even a single star is something of a reason to celebrate for restaurant owners. It’s also a good reason to visit the establishment. While it may not conform to spectacular plates or the ultimate in fashionable cuisine, it’s still guaranteed to be very tasty and worth the price. Usually, these restaurants are great places at which to have a meal should you happen to be in the neighbourhood.
Two Michelin Stars
This is defined as excellent cooking and worth a detour. Especially if you’re taking a road trip, these restaurants can often be little gems, nestled in small towns without too much fanfare attached to their locations. You may have to exit the highway and take a bit of time to locate them, but your palate will thank you, sincerely, for your efforts. Two stars is a highly respectable ranking in any country, whether its an urban affair or off a country lane. Any establishment that earns and maintains two stars has earned the honour and you can be assured that your custom will be rewarded with delicious fare.
Three Michelin Stars
These restaurants are frequently a good reason for vacationing in a particular place. They are ranked as Exceptional Cuisine and worth a special journey. This ranking signifies that an establishment is a force of nature in the cooking world, a trendsetter that delivers the highest quality experience possible. They also have something that can’t be found just anywhere, a special feature or touch, a signature dish that is the finest example of its type. Three stars, while often appended to the more exorbitantly priced establishments, are earned. You will receive the gustatory wonders promised by such a high ranking.
While Michelin guards its secrets well, and no one is ever precisely certain when a reviewer will book a table at their restaurant, the earning and loss of even a single star can dramatically impact the business prospects of an establishment. The secrecy in itself is important, because it functions to create both competition for excellence among restaurants and also a pressure to maintain a high ranking in consideration of a possible repeat visit.
The Downside to the Michelin System
While the Michelin guide system is a wonderful tool by which to tailor your gastronomic adventures, a bit of caution should be exercised. While the standards are strict, reviewers are often slow to revisit locations that have been previously judged. That means that worthy establishments must sometimes wait to receive a boost in their rating and restaurants that merit a downgrade or have closed are slow to be reviewed or removed from the guide unless a direct complaint is made.
However, the Michelin Guide still remains the premier resource and the most valuable tool in a traveller’s arsenal of information. It can form the foundation of a fantastic holiday, and with a bit of scrupulous, additional investigation, is definitely a resource worth its weight in travellers checks. If an army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon asserted, travellers do so no less. Food, eating, and ambiance are a crucial part of the enjoyment and success of any sojourn in any country.