15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Michelin Guide

The Michelin Guide awarded its 2017 stars for San Francisco Bay Area restaurants on Tuesday and, thanks to the promotion of Quince from two to three stars, there are now six Bay Area restaurants that have been awarded Michelin’s highest ranking. Quince joined Benu, Saison, Meadowood, Manresa, and The French Laundry, all of which were able to keep their three stars, an honor held by just over 100 restaurants worldwide.

San Francisco’s Lazy Bear, which received its first star last year, was the only Bay Area restaurant promoted from one to two stars and is now in good company with Acquerello, Atelier Crenn, Baumé, Campton Place, Coi, and Commis.

In addition, seven new Bay Area restaurants were able to snag one-star. Those include: Hashiri, Ju-ni, Mister Jiu’s, The Progress, Mosu, Menlo Park’s Madera, and San Jose’s Adega.

That’s a lot of stars. In fact, the Bay Area has 54 total, in case anyone’s counting.

And though we all get excited about the hype that surrounds the awarding of Michelin stars, a lot of us don’t even know how this whole handing out of stars even came about. Where did it start? Who was behind it? How are restaurants ranked? And is the Michelin Guide seriously related to the tire company? Here are a few fun facts to get you better acquainted with the famous guide, so you can impress your friends next time you’re dining out at a restaurant that’s be honored with a star or three.  

Fun Fact #1

First of all, yes, the Michelin Star is awarded by the same company that sells tires. Ándre and Édouard Michelin were French entrepreneurs who started a tire company in 1889. Eleven years later, it occurred to them that a ratings guide for hotels and restaurants would be a great way to inspire motor tourism, and therefore increase the need for people to buy tires more often.

Fun Fact #2

When the Michelin Guide was first published in August of 1900, there were less than 3000 cars on the road in France. There wasn’t an extensive road system and gasoline wasn’t found every couple of miles. The Michelin brothers even went so far as to create handmade road signs. The original guide listed the names and places of gas stations, mechanics, hotels, and restaurants. Thirty-five thousand copies were distributed for free.

Fun Fact #3

The first international copy of the Michelin Guide was published in Belgium in 1904. The first British edition was published in 1911. Today there are guides for Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Macau, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Fun Fact #4

The Michelin Guide was free until 1922 when the brothers charged seven francs for each guide. The story goes that Andre Michelin visited a garage that was using the guide to prop up a workbench and realized, “Man only truly respects what he pays for.”

Fun Fact #5

Though there was advertising when the guide was originally published, the Michelin brothers removed all ads when they decided to start charging for it. It remains ad-free to this day.

Fun Fact #6

The guide didn’t cover fine dining until 1926, which is when it started sending out anonymous reviewers to eat at restaurants and giving out one “dining star.”

Fun Fact #7

The three-star system was introduced in 1931, but the criteria for the starred rankings was not announced until 1936:
– One star = A very good restaurant in its category (“Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie”).
– Two stars = Excellent cooking; worth a detour (“Table excellente, mérite un détour”).
– Three stars = Exceptional cuisine; worthy of a special journey (“Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage”)

Fun Fact #8

1931 is also the year the blue cover was changed to the recognizable red color it is today.

Fun Fact #9

The “Bib Gourmand” award was created in 1955 (though it did not get that official name until 1997) and is given to restaurants that serve “good food at moderate prices.” It was awarded to 75 Bay Area restaurants this year, including 11 newcomers: ‘āina, Bravas Bywater, Del Popolo, Lai Hong Lounge, Nopalito, Okane, Shed Café, Tacos Sinaloa, Tsubasa, Two Birds/One Stone, and Village Sake.

Fun Fact #10

Wondering how the name “Bib Gourmand” came about? Well it might help if you knew that the man we call “The Michelin Man” in English has an actual name. He’s called Bibendum, and is sometimes refered to as Bib or Bibelobis. Long ago he wore glasses with a lanyard and smoked cigars, but as of 1998, he’s slimmed down, quit smoking, and apparently gotten contact lenses.

Fun Fact #11

The first American guide was published in November of 2005 and concentrated on New York. It included 500 restaurants from all five boroughs and 50 hotels in Manhattan. Today, there are guides for New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area (which includes Napa and Sonoma). There used to be guides for Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but those were both suspended in 2010 “due to the economic environment” and have yet to be reinstated.

Fun Fact #12

Michelin reviewers are referred to as “inspectors” and are completely anonymous. They are allegedly told not to tell anyone other than their spouse what they do for a living, including their parents. Many top executives at Michelin have never met an inspector and the inspectors have never been allowed to speak to journalists about what they do.

Fun Fact #13

There are said to be between 80 and 120 full-time inspectors, all of who must have highly discerning palates, receive six months of training, and work with an experienced inspector before being trusted to dine alone and write reports.

Fun Fact #14

Inspectors always visit restaurants anonymously as ordinary diners and most often they eat alone. This is because they do not receive free meals and paying for dining companions would be too expensive. It’s said the average inspector evaluates 240 restaurants a year. They don’t take notes at the table, so as not to give themselves away, which means they must have good concentration and an excellent memory…. and be okay with being on the road three out of every four weeks.

Fun Fact #15

The exact definition of what is looked for in a restaurant in order to gain a star is kept under wraps (which many chefs and restaurateurs find infuriating), but the reviews are said to be based only on what’s the plate, including quality of ingredients, skill and technique of preparation and combination of flavors, creativity, value, and consistency. Things like décor, ambiance, and service are not taken into consideration.

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