What Each Michelin Star Actually Means

The food world is dripping in honors and awards, but a Michelin-star rating is one of the most cherished. Fewer than 3,000 restaurants have achieved Michelin fame, so even one-star recognition is prized by chefs and restaurateurs around the world (via Fine Dining Lovers). Such an esteemed designation can completely transform an establishment's business; so much, in fact, that some owners have asked to have the ranking removed (per Escoffier).

According to Michelin, the food guide can be traced back to 1889, when the founders of the now-known tire company sought to encourage French motorists to get out on the road and buy tires. In 1926, the guidebook began to mark noteworthy dining locations with a single star; the multi-star system we know today wasn't published until a decade later (per Frenchefs).

The process of achieving Michelin distinction can take several years. Anonymous reviewers, called inspectors, are paid to visit restaurants and take notes (via Performance Food Service). What, exactly, separates a one-star establishment from a three-star experience? And how are restaurants judged?

Anonymous inspectors observe the dining experience

Michelin inspectors order a variety of dishes that might showcase chefs' skills. Inspectors remain anonymous, and one New Yorker article reports, "Many of the company's top executives have never met an inspector; inspectors themselves are advised not to disclose their line of work, even to their parents." 

According to the Michelin Guide, restaurants are evaluated in terms of demonstrated culinary mastery, the presence of personality represented in the dishes, and overall consistency. Food is rated not based on the appearance of the establishment or the way in which plates are brought to the table, but according to the ingredients used and how each meal is prepared. Director of the Michelin Guide, Werner Loens, notes, "We don't offer advice to chefs because we support the expression of their creativity. Obviously, we have criteria on which our inspectors base their reports, but we prefer to keep them hush and allow their natural cooking instincts to shine through," (per Lightspeed). 

Restaurant Engine further explains that if a restaurant is awarded one star, it's good and worth a visit; a two-star rating indicates an excellently cooked, high-quality cuisine worthy of a detour; a superb three-star rating indicates a place you want to go out of your way to visit. So the next time you're on a road trip or exploring a new place, it might be worthwhile to check out Michelin-ranked restaurants in the area.