Here's Why Michelin Stars Get Taken Away

Anyone who considers themselves a foodie or even a fan of television cooking shows knows that a Michelin Star is one of the most prestigious recognitions in the world of fine dining. But while we may know that Michelin Stars are awarded to restaurants by a host of anonymous, traveling food critics, it's less known that what the Michelin Man giveth, the Michelin Man can taketh away. While losing Michelin Stars is possible and, in fact, happens each year — as it did recently for New York's Peter Luger, Carbone, and Marea (per The Takeout). Truly Experiences notes that the process for losing a star is murky and presumably linked to a reduction in quality.

Truly Experiences explains that while Michelin inspectors can comment on a restaurant's atmosphere or service, the stars are only about food. According to Michelin, there are five criteria for stars: Quality of ingredients, the harmony of flavors, mastery of techniques, creativity and personality, and consistency across the entire menu and over a period of time (though these are somewhat subjective). The consistency element is thought to be the most important when a restaurant loses a star, as only a severe drop in quality from a previously excellent restaurant could warrant such a demotion. Inspectors visit restaurants roughly every 18 months, though visits could be more frequent for restaurants where a star rating is subject to change. Revel Systems notes that restaurants will be visited "as many times as necessary" before Michelin makes final decisions. 

The guide's changing impact

So, what happens when a star gets removed? For one, it can be very hard on the chef. As Twisted notes, when Gordon Ramsay had two stars taken away from his former restaurant in New York City in 2013, the notoriously tough "Hell's Kitchen" host said it made him cry. The damage can go beyond a self-esteem blow for the chef or restaurant owner, though. According to Truly Experiences, the loss of a star, especially for an up-and-coming restaurant, can be hard on business. Many restaurants report a dramatic uptick in traffic after earning stars, and the sudden loss of a star can take that business away. As a result, some chefs sought restitution after having stars removed. Eater reports that in 2019, French chef Marc Veyrat sued Michelin for demoting him to two stars, claiming the choice was based on incompetence and that the guide did not provide sufficient transparency. He lost his suit, and Michelin was allowed to continue to keep its inspectors' notes secret.   

Veyrat's criticism is not isolated. The 2021 California guide earned many complaints after several restaurants lost stars during the COVID-19 pandemic for no discernable reason. According to SFist, several chefs who lost stars have said the ratings feel less important after the devastating 2020 closures, though criticism has continued. The guide's choices in San Francisco and the apparent inconsistency of standards in U.S. cities have led to multiple questions of competence and a European-skewed bias by the company.