A tire company and a fine dining guide might seem like an unlikely pairing. But that’s exactly what happened in 1900 when tire giant Michelin first released the Michelin Guide, which is now considered the go-to authority for fine dining establishments around the world.
So how exactly did the automotive industry come to overlap with the restaurant scene? As the Michelin Guide website explains, the original booklet was intended to be a guide to restaurants and accommodations for travelers who bought the company’s tires.
The logic was that people would wear out their tires traveling around the country, and come back to Michelin for new ones, giving the company a steady stream of business. Pretty smart, huh?
Today, of course, the guide is a whole different beast entirely. The Michelin Guide now awards select restaurants zero to three stars, based on five criteria, according to their website: “quality of the ingredients used, mastery of flavour cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in his cuisine, value for money and consistency between visits.”
Receiving one or more Michelin stars is considered a major honor in the restaurant industry and is highly coveted by chefs in the 24 countries in which they bestow ratings.
Michelin’s inspectors are full-time employees of the Michelin Group and eat out regularly to make their recommendations for the best hotel and restaurant experiences.
The inspectors dine anonymously in order to protect the integrity of their opinion. Many of them are former chefs and hoteliers themselves who have studied at the best hospitality schools in the world.
Receiving a Michelin star can elevate a relatively unknown restaurant to elite status, but some proprietors say that it shouldn’t be considered the be-all-end-all of career success.
“There is no doubt that receiving a Michelin star is the pinnacle of a number of restaurateurs’ careers,” Ken McCulloch, a hotel chain founder in Scotland whose property has received a Michelin star in the past, told the BBC. “When we received our award at One Devonshire Gardens it was delightful – it raised the bar. In my world I strive to make my hotels and restaurants a little better every day. That is my focus. A Michelin star can only help but it should not be taken literally. It should be kept in perspective.”
Nevertheless, some chefs do take it very seriously. When one of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants lost two Michelin stars in 2013, he reportedly cried.