The Michelin Guide
(Le Guide Michelin
) is a series of annual guide books
published by Michelin
for over a dozen countries. The term refers by default to the Michelin Red Guide
, the oldest and best-known European
hotel and restaurant guide, which awards the Michelin stars
. Michelin also publishes Green Guides
for travel and tourism, as well as several newer publications such as the Guide Voyageur Pratique
(independent travel), Guide Gourmand
(good-value eating-places), Guide Escapade
(quick breaks) and Guide Coup de Cœur
(hotels of character).
In 1900, André Michelin
published the first edition of a guide to France
to help drivers maintain their cars, find decent lodging, and eat well while touring. It included addresses of gasoline distributors, garages, tire stockists, and information on fuel prices, changing tires and repairing the cars of the day.
The guide was distributed free until 1920. According to a story told by the Michelin brothers, the charge was introduced after a pile of guides was found propping up a workbench in a garage, showing that a free book would not be taken seriously. In 1926, the guide introduced the star to note good cooking; two and three stars were added in the early 1930s. The cover of the guide was originally blue, but since 1931 has been red.
As motoring became more widespread, the star system was developed and guides to other countries introduced. Today a series of twelve guides lists more than 45,000 hotels and restaurants across Europe, and the guide to France has sold 30 million copies since it was introduced. There are now Red Guides covering France, Austria, Netherlands/Belgium/Luxemburg, Italy, Germany, Spain/Portugal, Switzerland, and the UK/Ireland. The guide covering France is still by far the most thorough. There is also a Red Guide covering the "Main Cities of Europe". The first guides for cities outside of Europe were published in 2005 for New York City and 2006 for San Francisco.
Guides for Tokyo, Los Angeles and Las Vegas were released in November 2007. Tokyo was awarded a total of 191 stars – eight restaurants were given three stars, 25 two stars, and 117 one star. This is more than three times New York City's total, and nearly twice as many as Paris's total. (It should be noted, however, that Tokyo is home to 160,000 restaurants, versus New York's 25,000 and Paris's 13,000.)
Guides for Hong Kong and Macau will be published on 5 December 2008.
Red and Green Guides
The Michelin Red Guide has historically had many more listings than its rivals, relying on an extensive system of symbols to describe each establishment in as little as two lines. Restaurants rated with a star also listed three specialities. Recently, however, very short summaries (2-3 lines) have been added for many establishments, for example 9,000 in France. These short summaries are written in the language of the country for which it is published, but the symbols are universal. The Red Guide uses anonymous inspections and does not charge for entries. Michelin claims to revisit establishments on average once every eighteen months in order to keep ratings up to date.
There is a Green Guide for each French region and many countries, regions, and cities outside France. Most Green Guides on France are available in several languages. They include background information and an alphabetical section describing points of interest. Like the Red Guide, they use a three-star system for recommending sights: three stars, "worth the trip"; two stars, "worth a detour"; one star, "interesting".
Michelin stars and other ratings
The guide awards one to three stars to a small number of restaurants of outstanding quality. Stars are awarded sparingly; for instance, in the UK and Ireland 2004 guide, out of 5,500 entries, there are 98 with one star ("a very good restaurant in its category"), 11 with two stars ("excellent cooking, worth a detour"), and only 3 with three stars ("exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey").
Since 1955, the guide has also highlighted restaurants offering "good food at moderate prices", a feature now called "Bib Gourmand". They must have a menu priced at no more than £28 in the case of the UK, or €40 in Ireland. The name comes from Bib (Bibendum), the Michelin Man, Michelin's logo for over a century.
The guide also recognizes many restaurants without any stars or Bib Gourmands. These restaurants are usually rated solely on the scale of "forks and knives". The forks and knives rating is given to all restaurants recognized in the guide, and range from one to five. One fork and knife being "Quite comfortable restaurant" and five being "Luxurious restaurant". If the forks and knives are colored red they designate the restaurant to be "pleasant" as well. The forks and knives scale is designated to speak of the overall comfortability and quality of the restaurant, however any listing in the guide requires a relatively high standard of the kitchen as well.
Restaurants, independently of their other ratings in the guide, can also receive a number of other symbols next to their listing.
- The coins are given to restaurants that serve a menu for a certain price or less. The price depends on the local price-standard. In France the required price is currently €16.50.
- Interesting view or Magnificent view, designated by a black or red symbol, are given to restaurants that offer dining with a view.
- The grapes are given to restaurants that serve a somewhat interesting assortment of wine.
Because of their reputation the Michelin Guides are subject to increasing amounts of scrutiny and criticism.
On 24 February 2003, Bernard Loiseau
, a prominent French chef with a history of bipolar disorder
, committed suicide
when his widely-admired restaurant Côte d'Or
, was rumoured to be in danger of a downgrade by Michelin from three to two stars. Loiseau was already despondent because his business was failing.
However the 2003 Michelin Guide, which was published four days after Loiseau's death, did not downgrade the Côte d'Or. Later news reports attributed the suicide to an actual downgrade by the Gault Millau
guide. Michelin's 2004 French Red Guide sold 415,000 copies in France, six times as many as their closest competitor, Gault Millau.
Allegations of lax inspection standards
Pascal Rémy, a Michelin inspector, and also a former Gault Millau employee, wrote a tell-all book in 2004, claiming that Michelin had become extremely lax in its standards. He gave evidence that, though the guide claims to visit all 4,000 reviewed restaurants every 18 months in order to keep the guide up to standards, they are actually visited about every 3.5 years, unless a specific complaint had been made. Rémy's employment was terminated. He brought a court case for unfair dismissal, which was unsuccessful.
Accusations of bias
As the Michelin Guide is published by a French
company, some US food critics have denounced the rating system as inherently biased toward French cuisine. When the Michelin Guide released the first edition of the New York City guide, many American media sources, including Steven Kurutz of the New York Times
, claimed the complete omission of any stars for many otherwise highly reviewed restaurants, specifically Danny Meyer
's Union Square Cafe
(although the restaurant was included in the guide, and received mention for its ambiance). They also claimed that over half of the restaurants that received two or more stars served French cuisine
The extent of the guide's coverage differs greatly between countries. Although the international coverage is growing the guide still only covers the largest cities and the very best of the restaurants available in some countries. This has led to the guide being described as "snobbish" in many countries where only the best and most expensive star-rated restaurants are listed.
- Trois étoiles au Michelin: Une histoire de la haute gastronomie française et européenne, by Jean-François Mesplède and Alain Ducasse, ISBN 2-7000-2468-0. Follows the 60-odd chefs who have been awarded three stars.
- The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, by Rudolph Chelminski, ISBN 1-59240-107-4. The story of Bernard Loiseau.