Monday, May 27, 2024

What’s Next for the Michelin Guide? Even More Growth

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I joined Michelin 20 years ago, and at that time we were covering restaurant selection in Western European countries—France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK. Since then, we have radically expanded the footprint, not only to the US but also to Asia and now to the Middle East. And we are really continuing to expand at a very rapid pace.

When we started the first Michelin Guide in California with San Francisco [in 2007], there was one three-star restaurant. Now we have eight, and there will be more and more. The number of stars we have today is more than double what it used to be. When I joined the company, the question was “Where can we expand?” Today, as director of the Michelin Guide, my daily question is “How can I expand faster to recognize all the blossoming, high-quality restaurants across the world?” The culinary landscape has changed completely, but we’ve kept the same methodology. We have been building up our teams, and today, we have more than 25 Michelin inspectors all around the world.

How do you train new inspectors as the company expands?

Last year I received about 8,000 applications to work for the Michelin Guide. That being said, few people realize that being an inspector is a full-time job. You have to eat out for lunch and dinner 300 times a year. You need to be professional, but you need to be also really passionate and committed.

We hire people that have a background in the industry: hospitality school or culinary school. Normally, they have been working in a restaurant or hotel for about 10 years, so they have real experience in the field. When they join, the [new] Michelin inspector on average has two or three years of training with more senior inspectors so that they can get used to the Michelin methodology, our benchmark approach, and [they] can apply our criteria in a consistent way.

You need to be able to embrace all different food cultures—not only American cuisine if you’re living in America but Japanese, Indian, French, modern, and traditional. Our inspectors must be able to embrace different cultures; able to recognize the quality, whatever the food style, whatever the setting. And you need to remain anonymous—that’s quite important.

Have there been issues with anonymity as social media has become ubiquitous?

It’s becoming more of a challenge. Years ago, an inspector could eat out in restaurants, pay the bill, and the week after come back to say, “I would like to have a look at the kitchen.” At that time it was possible because [there weren’t] pictures on the internet, [or] social media.

Today, it’s impossible. You have cameras, you have WhatsApp where [employees] will immediately communicate with each other. There are also all the credit card recognition systems when you do the booking online, and more and more restaurants ask for a credit card number or a phone number. So we have to make sure that inspectors are changing phone numbers quite often—there are some booking systems that will identify the credit card or phone numbers, and immediately browse Google to find pictures. That’s the reason why today the inspectors don’t have an open discussion with chefs.

Are there other areas where Michelin is expecting to expand next?

Frankly, many. I’m not able to share the official names of projects, but of course, we are continuing to expand in China. Of course, one day India will be at the table. Last year we revealed that Vietnam would be included, and we revealed the first selection for Argentina. There is still a lot of room for expansion in South America, but there were ups and downs due to political context, and the restaurants were not consistent. Australia, for example, we’re not yet there because it’s quite big. So you need the knowledge, you need the teams, and as we do not compromise with the quality, you need the people first. Inspectors are a scarce resource.

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