There's arguably nothing that a restaurateur wants more than a Michelin Star, the most prestigious and coveted award any food establishment can hope to achieve.
According to the official Michelin Guide, it's so exclusive that only 138 restaurants with three stars exist worldwide. Given its esteem, it's no surprise the Michelin Star is vital to a restaurant's success and renown.
Have you ever wondered about the history of the Michelin Star and how a tire company began critiquing food in the first place? This infographic tracks the convergence of cars and gastronomy—from the Michelin Guide's origin as a marketing strategy to its stars becoming one of the most distinguished food-related accolades in the world.
The Crux of the Michelin Guide
The Michelin Star originated in 1889 in the humble town of Clermont-Ferrand—now a bustling city in France. André and Édouard Michelin founded the Michelin company, which manufactured tires for bicycles and horse-drawn carriages.
However, the brothers had a bigger dream: manufacturing pneumatic tires for automobiles. It was a particularly bold objective since fewer than 3,000 cars were on French roads then. So, to boost car and tire sales in the country, André and Édouard had the grand idea of developing a small red booklet containing helpful information to assist drivers during their travels.
The goal was to encourage people to buy cars and tires by making driving more accessible. After all, the early days of motoring were full of challenges, leaving drivers reluctant to venture far from home for fear of breakdowns and limited access to resources.
Initially, the booklet came at no cost until André saw a tire shop use them to prop up a workbench. When he realized that "man only truly respects what he pays for," the company officially published the Michelin Guide and sold each copy for 7 francs.
The Evolution of the Michelin Guide
The first copies of the Michelin Guide in 1900 didn't exclusively feature restaurant recommendations. Instead, it had information on changing tires, maps, and a catalog of hotels, restaurants, mechanics, and gas stations in France. It also contained paid advertisements for brands looking to boost their visibility among drivers and travelers.
With the growth of the Michelin company, the Guide's reach widened throughout Europe. In 1904, they began publishing country-specific editions, starting with Belgium, then expanded to Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and many more. When the 1920s came, the Guide began including categorized restaurant lists within its pages. It also abandoned paid ads to focus on food recommendations.
As the Guide continued to evolve, its influence on the culinary industry grew. It began affecting the sales and popularity of the restaurants it listed, making it a valuable tool for travelers looking to take on a culinary adventure.
The Birth of the Michelin Star System
The Michelin Star that most chefs and restaurateurs clamor for even today began in 1926. Anonymous inspectors visited and reviewed restaurants, using a single-star system to reward those they deemed "fine dining establishments." These restaurants were exclusively in France and were the first establishments to taste the prestige of the Michelin Guide, albeit it wasn't widespread as it is today.
Introducing the Michelin Star System brought unprecedented credibility to restaurant evaluations. The anonymous inspectors scoured cities and countryside, seeking dining establishments that exhibited culinary brilliance and creativity. Five years later, the Guide expanded to the now famous three-star system, with each star signifying the level of culinary excellence of the Chef or the establishment.
• 1 Michelin star: "A very good restaurant in its category."
• 2 Michelin stars: "Excellent cooking, worth a detour."
• 3 Michelin stars: "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey."
This system offered practical information to help travelers find the best restaurants during their adventures. Michelin also leveraged it to encourage people to embark on longer journeys, leading to more tire wear and, ultimately, more sales for the long-standing tire company.
Today, Michelin Stars remain a badge of honor to high-quality food establishments in the culinary world, regardless of the number they obtain. Currently, there are 138 three-star restaurants, 489 with two stars, and 2,814 with one star worldwide, all of which Michelin annually evaluates and updates.
The Introduction of the Bib Gourmand
The Bib Gourmand began in 1955 as a response to the rapidly evolving culinary landscape. The name combines "Bib," from the Michelin Man's mascot nicknamed Bibendum, and "gourmand," which refers to someone who enjoys eating.
While Michelin Stars seek the highest levels of culinary craftsmanship, the Bib Gourmand focuses on a high-quality, flavorful, and enjoyable dining experience at a modest price. It also emphasizes the importance of utilizing local ingredients and fostering an inviting dining atmosphere that welcomes locals and visitors alike.
It had simple criteria that vary from those of Michelin Stars: the restaurant must offer high-quality menu items priced below a maximum rate, depending on local standards:
- €36 in most European cities
- US$40 in American cities
- HK$300 in Hong Kong
- ¥5,000 in Tokyo, Japan
The Guide flags these establishments with a red "R" to tell readers they serve "good cuisine at reasonable prices," particularly a three-course meal. However, the company replaced it in 1997 with an image of the Michelin Man licking his lips. Since then, the Bib Gourmand has become a well-loved symbol for budget-conscious diners looking for memorable yet affordable meals.
The Global Reach of the Michelin Star
For a long time, the Michelin Guide only had editions exclusive to European countries. It wasn't until 2006 that it expanded outside the continent and across the Atlantic, awarding Michelin Stars to 39 New York restaurants.
Following this expansion, food establishments in other states began amassing stars: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas in 2007, and Chicago in 2011. The Guide continued to spread throughout the country and into Canada, celebrating the culinary achievements of Michelin Star-worthy chefs and restaurateurs in the continent.
Meanwhile, the Michelin Guide took its first steps in Asia in November 2007, recognizing the excellence of Japanese cuisine. Stars first rained down on Tokyo, then Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, and other parts of the Japanese archipelago. Then, it arrived in different Asian countries—Hong Kong and Macau in 2009, then Singapore, Seoul, and Shanghai, effectively turning the Guide into a global phenomenon.
Today, the Michelin Red Guide series spans 28 titles in over 25 countries, including the following editions:
- België/Belgique and Luxembourg
- Bib Gourmand France
- Eating out in Pubs
- España and Portugal
- Great Britain and Ireland
- Hong Kong Macau
- Kyoto Osaka
- Main Cities of Europe
- Bib Gourmand Benelux
- Bib Gourmand Deutschland
- New York City
- Nordic Guide
- Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo
- San Francisco
- Washington, D.C.
As more food establishments develop innovative culinary practices and leverage state-of-the-art tools to create exceptional food, more restaurants and countries will appear on the Michelin Guide's highly desired pages.
Be Michelin Star-Worthy with Charlie's Fixtures
The Michelin Star's history is a tale of innovation: What began as a strategic marketing tool to promote tire sales transformed the company into a renowned authority in the culinary world.
Today, chefs and restaurateurs like yourself continue to strive for these stars, delivering outstanding gastronomic experiences for a spot in the world-renowned Michelin Guide.
Turn your dream of obtaining a Michelin Star into reality by setting your restaurant up for success with Charlie's Fixtures. We offer top-of-the-line restaurant equipment to modernize your kitchen and help your staff perform at their best.
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