Shocking: In Many Cities, The Michelin Guide Is Now Paid For By The Local Tourism Authority

Shocking: In Many Cities, The Michelin Guide Is Now Paid For By The Local Tourism Authority

The Michelin Guide was started by the Michelin tire company, initially to promote car sales and then to promote driving in order to sell more tires. The guide itself, though, doesn’t make money. But earning a Michelin star is huge for restaurants – a 20% bump in business for receiving a star, 40% for two stars, and a doubling in business on average for three stars as Skift reports.

Some chefs of course rail against the pressure and perceived unfairness and slights in the rankings, and quite reasonably so. May of the ratings really are off, both in terms of which restaurants get included and which ones do not, as well as the number of stars given. But a Michelin listing is a big deal for a restaurant and, it turns out, for a city.

  • Thailand estimates that the launch of the Michelin Guide in Bangkok drove a 10% increase in tourism spending in Thailand. Thailand paid to have the Michelin Guide rank restaurants in Bangkok in a 5-year $4.4 million deal.
  • South Korea paid Michelin to publish a guide on Seoul. A venture capital firm paid to get Kuala Lumpur included. It’s reported that pay-for-play arrangements helped launch Michelin into Hong Kong, Macau and Bangkok. Estonia’s tourism authority has entered into a contract with Michelin, and Israel is going to pay $1.6 million in order to have Tel Aviv ranked.
  • Visit Dubai and Visit Abu Dhabi tourism authorities partnered with Michelin on launching guides for their cities.
  • And Canada getting Michelin guides for Vancouver and Toronto?

    the two inaugural guides in Canada were part of a multi-year funding deal between Michelin and tourism boards to put the Canadian hospitality industry back on its feet after the pandemic. While the specific numbers were not disclosed, it is understood that the process was different for the two cities, and “Destination Vancouver gave a large sum and a commitment for five years.”

  • But what happens to countries that stop paying?

    [T]he Czech Republic could be falling out with its Michelin stars after it announced that individual countries must now pay a fee of CZK 10 million to Michelin over three years. According to the report, countries such as Hungary and Slovenia have already pledged their payments.

I’ve certainly enjoyed my meals at places like The Fat Duck, Amber, Nahm, Bo Innovation, Jiro Roppongi and Masuda and so many others.

Michelin matters. My favorite sushi chef in Austin, Otto Phan, decamped for Chicago in 2018. The first time I ate at his then-new omakase restaurant in Austin I told my wife he wouldn’t stay long, he was too good. His reason for choosing Chicago was that the city was Michelin-rated and lacked a strong sushi scene. He was denied Michelin stars, likely due to internal Michelin politics, but though sushi has grown up in Chicago in the past five years he towers above the rest of the scene with his Kyoten restaurant.

Chef Otto Phan, Kyoten

Five years ago reservations were barely a thing at restaurants in Austin. Everywhere you’ll get people showing up at tough to get into spots on a lark. Two women in sweatpants entered Ferran Adria’s El Bulli ahead of me years ago without a booking and were turned away in the most polite manner I’d seen. Chef Phan only took reservations but his style of restaurant was anathema in a city that hadn’t quite grown up yet.

Austin has changed markedly, perhaps due to an influx of coastal elites. Reservations are now a must, and ironically the chef that Otto Phan helped into his former restaurant space now has the toughest reservation in the country based on Tock waitlist. Tsuke Edomae is closed for the first half of 2023 while chef Michael Che further hones his craft in Japan.

Chef Michael Che, Tsuke Edomae

Perhaps Austin should pay the Michelin guide to rate it, though honestly while everything has long been above average very few places are ‘great’ outside of barbecue. We wouldn’t have many Michelin-starred places.

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