An A-Z of Michelin (2009 Press Release, GB)

Posted on: November 17th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

January 17th 2009 – Throughout the year, from January to December, the MICHELIN guide team is fully focused on the forthcoming edition’s release date. The process involves a number of steps—visiting hotels and restaurants, checking information, writing the text and laying out the Guide.

Preparations for a new version of the MICHELIN guide begin with the editor-in-chief who draws up a schedule of visits for the team of inspectors. As the Guide’s orchestrator, he determines the territories to be visited and assigns inspectors to each.  Thus, every year each inspector is assigned to cover several French departments, which are not necessarily close to each other.

86 inspectors searching for the best places to have a meal or spend the night

A year in the life of a MICHELIN guide inspector can be summed up in a few figures. Traveling anonymously, each inspector eats approximately 250 meals in restaurants and spends around 150 nights in hotels and guesthouses. He or she also visits more than 800 establishments and writes 1,100 reports. For country guide inspectors, this represents around 30,000 km on the road. At present, 86 men and women are involved in this highly unusual work, of which 70 in Europe, 10 in the United States and, for the moment, 6 in Asia. They spend their time on the road and in restaurants and hotels, looking for just the right place—one that they know readers will appreciate. Averaging around 40 years old, inspectors may be married and have children or they may be single. Some are tall and thin, while others are short and stout. Most have attended hotel school, and then worked for five to ten years in the hospitality industry before applying for a job with the MICHELIN guide. Following a series of interviews and lunch with a senior inspector (after which applicants write a “fresh eyes” report, in particular to demonstrate their attention to detail), the new inspector embarks on a six-month training period during which he or she will learn about the criteria for awarding stars, assigning comfort categories and assessing other amenities. During these six months, new hires will test restaurants in the company of a senior inspector before being given an initial solo assignment in their country.

Three weeks a month on the road
Inspectors generally spend three weeks on the road every month, looking for good hotels and restaurants. They discover, test and confirm establishments that either will be included in the selection or, on the contrary, will be removed from the guide. For the fourth week, they return to the office, where they submit their reports and are debriefed by the editor-in-chief. Decisions are then made as to which hotels and restaurants to include in the selection, which should be removed because of a decline in quality, which will be awarded the Bib Gourmand or Bib Hotel pictogram, and which chefs have crossed a new threshold in their careers. As for stars, they are awarded in special meetings, held twice a year and attended by the editor-in-chief, the inspectors and the Director of MICHELIN guides. Decisions regarding the attribution of stars are reached by consensus. The week spent in the office also provides inspectors with an opportunity to prepare for their next series of visits, book their tables and rooms, and learn more about the establishments they’ll be visiting. In planning their schedules, they’re helped by the editor-in-chief’s assistant, who provides them with a wealth of information obtained from the press, directly from the restaurant or hotel manager, or from other sources.

Valuable information is also found in the 45,000 letters and e-mail messages received from readers each year. While 85% of the correspondence supports the selection, the remaining 15% comes from readers who don’t agree with the inclusion of a given hotel or restaurant or want to draw attention to an establishment omitted from the selection that they enjoyed very much and think might interest the guide. While these letters and messages may provide useful indications, obviously they are never a substitute for the indispensable work carried out by inspectors in the field.

In the offices on Avenue de Breteuil in Paris, the new edition of the Guide is drafted and laid out.  Once the inspectors have submitted their reports and gone back on the road, the information is processed by the administrative manager who uses it to update town plans and check other useful information, such as the name or address of a given establishment. For example, if a hotel or restaurant is to be withdrawn from the selection, it must no longer appear on the plan of the town in which it is located.

The information is also shared with the guide’s writers. Working with the inspectors’ reports, as well as with brochures and other documents brought back from trips in the field, the writers draft the comments to be included in the MICHELIN guide.  Generally three or four lines in the country guides, the comments are longer and more detailed in the city guides and the “Bonnes Petites Tables” and Guesthouses in France guides. The rationale is that a full description will arouse the reader’s interest. The ability to write well and synthesize information are the main qualities required of the staff members who, every year, write the comments in the guide’s national language for more than 45,000 establishments, representing more than 300,000 lines each.

At the same time, the editorial manager oversees the preparation of texts, maps, town plans, photographs and the other information contained in the guides, beginning with the layout and the organization of information. If a new pictogram needs to be designed or a new publication laid out, the editorial manager is in charge to ensure compliance with graphic standards.  Recent projects include the reformatted versions of the Paris and London guides, as well as the creation of the Guesthouses in France and “Bonnes Petites Tables” guides.

Once the information has been gathered, the texts written and the town plans updated, the publication then moves into the pre-press phase just prior to printing. That’s when the texts, town plans, photographs are brought together and integrated into the mock-up so that the entire guide can be re-read by the various people and departments concerned, including the inspectors and the map department. Once the guide has been validated, the files are sent to the printer. Several weeks later, shrink-wrapped pallets of the famous MICHELIN guide are ready for shipment to sales outlets throughout the country.

Every year, around 500 people are involved in preparing the MICHELIN guide
In the end, the MICHELIN guide represents a year of work for 500 people, including inspectors, graphic artists, writers, mapmakers and the Michelin production department. Regardless of their task, whether working in an office or on the road, they all share the same goal, which is to consistently satisfy readers and provide them with an attractive, accurate, easy-to-use guide. Quality, enthusiasm and precision are their top priorities. Because it’s not just by chance that, 100 years after its launch, the MICHELIN guide is the world’s number one restaurant guide and is sometimes referred to as the benchmark in gourmet dining.

Stars and the Bib Gourmand pictogram denote the quality of cooking, while pavilions and fork-and-spoon symbols indicate the level of comfort

The pictograms in the MICHELIN guide can be defined as follows: stars and the Bib Gourmand icon reflect the quality of the cooking, while pavilions and fork-and-spoon symbols signify the level of comfort.

From that point on, all combinations are possible. A restaurant may rate five forks and spoons (“luxury in the traditional style”) but not receive a star because the quality of the cooking does not warrant it. Conversely, a restaurant may have one fork and spoon (“quite comfortable) and yet receive three stars because of its outstanding cooking.

Investing in silverware and valet parking will increase the number of forks and spoons (for a restaurant) or pavilions (for a hotel) but will have no impact on the number of stars. Serving outstanding dishes will have no influence on a restaurant’s level of comfort but may have an impact on the number of stars. The two categories are totally separate.

The stars were developed gradually in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The first step came in 1926, when the first star was introduced. The second and third stars were then added, in 1931 for restaurants outside the Paris area and two years later for restaurants in the capital. Today, in the 22 countries worldwide currently covered by the MICHELIN guide, approximately 1,800 restaurants have been awarded one, two or three stars. To have earned one or more stars in the MICHELIN guide means that a restaurant is not only one of the best in its country but also one of the best in the world.

The Bib Gourmand symbol was introduced in 1997. This pictogram—the head of Bibendum, the Michelin Man, in red—denotes a restaurant that offers excellent value for money. The Bib Gourmand designation is appreciated both by readers, who know they will eat well for an affordable price, and by restaurant managers, who know that the distinction will attract more customers.

The Bib Gourmand selections for France and Italy are also featured in two “Bonnes Petites Tables” guides. The goal is to show that there is more to the MICHELIN guide then “starred” restaurants, which in fact represent only 10% of the overall selection.  The Bib Hotel symbol was introduced in 2003 to draw the reader’s attention to establishments whose services and amenities also represent very good value for money.

Lastly, the “two coins” pictogram indicates a restaurant that offers a three-course meal for less than €18 (in France). The latest edition of the MICHELIN guide France includes around 1,900 of these restaurants. While the Bib Gourmand, Bib Hotel, stars and coins are the most well-known pictograms in the MICHELIN guide, there are many others that provide readers with information about each establishment.

Etoile: the magazine for gourmets only!

Launched last April, Etoile, the magazine of the MICHELIN guide, is published bimonthly in partnership with Éditions Glénat. Not surprisingly, it focuses on gourmet dining.

In its pages, readers, gourmets and other food lovers discover restaurants, chefs, and fine-dining destinations, meet today’s culinary-trendsetting people and places, follow a Michelin inspector across France, wander the streets and neighborhoods of a city with a chef who knows all the best places to eat, and explore new horizons and new taste sensations.

Like the MICHELIN guide for more than a century, Etoile accompanies readers on their trips, guiding them toward unforgettable, unexpected, out-of-the-ordinary experiences… in short, enhancing the mobility and enjoyment of readers and travelers.

Co-published six times a year by Michelin and Glénat, Etoile provides readers with the very best of the world of gastronomy—the latest news, profiles of well-known and up-and-coming chefs, gourmet itineraries traced by Michelin inspectors in France and around the world, and articles on astonishing vineyards and wines that can be shared with friends. Intended for a broad audience, Etoile is the indispensable rendezvous for people for whom fine dining is a passing interest, a passion or a key criterion in planning their travels.

Each issue is organized into four sections: news, gourmet dining, travel and wine.

Published in French only and priced at €4.90, Etoile is currently available in France, Belgium, Switzerland, French-speaking Canada and Italy.

The MICHELIN guide’s international development

In 1900, the MICHELIN guide was confined to just one country: France.

Today, in 2008, it covers 22 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan.

While the MICHELIN guide moved quickly to cover other destinations in Europe (publishing a guide to Belgium, its first venture outside France, in 1904), it wasn’t until 2005 that the Guide made its first entry into the United States with the launch of the MICHELIN guide New York City. That was followed the next year by the MICHELIN guide San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country and, in November 2007, the MICHELIN guide Los Angeles and the MICHELIN guide Las Vegas.

In late 2007, the first guide to Asia, and more particularly Japan, was released. The initial edition of the MICHELIN guide Tokyo was brought out in November 2007 and proved an enormous success, with more than 120,000 copies in Japanese sold in less than 24 hours and more than 290,000 in its first five weeks on the market.

The MICHELIN guide will continue to broaden its horizons, both in the United States, where guides to other cities will soon be  published (joining the four existing guides for New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas), and in Asia, where Hong Kong and Macau will have their own guide, to be released in Chinese and English in December 2008. The People’s Republic of China will thus become the 23rd country covered by the MICHELIN guide.

Today, the MICHELIN guide covers 22 countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland and Finland.

When they launched the first guide bearing their name in August 1900, André and Edouard Michelin certainly never imagined that 109 years later their little red guide would cross borders and navigate the seas to become the global benchmark in fine dining.