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The History of Michelin

Most people know and respect the Michelin ratings system. As for its history and what exactly it stands for, it’s a slightly different story. Even those who use Michelin recommendations to plan most of their dining experiences often have no real idea why they do so. It’s simply a case of the guide becoming the benchmark the global industry is measured by.

So for those interested in looking a little deeper than the ratings themselves, how did the Michelin ratings system get started in the first place?

Early Origins

Incredibly, the very first Michelin Guide was published over a century ago in 1900. At the time, it focused exclusively on French motorists – a helpful resource listing important locations like hotels, mechanics and petrol stations. Given that there were fewer than 3,000 cars on the roads in France at the time, it was considered a luxury material of use only to the affluent.

That said, it was given away free of charge for the first 22 years of its production.

It wasn’t until 1922 that a price was payable for the Michelin Guide. The price of 7 Francs would equate to around £12 taking into account inflation, though there were still comparatively few cars on the roads and therefore buyers of the publication.

Stars Are Born

Though primarily designed as a guide for motorists, the Michelin Guide began to award star ratings to restaurants starting in 1933. It was at this time that the system of awarding one, two or three stars was introduced – exactly the same as it exists today. At the time however, the star ratings didn’t have quite the same prestige as those that were awarded many decades later.

It took another 20 years for the first Michelin Red Guides to appear, which extended the coverage of the publication outside the confines of France. The very first Red Guide was published in 1952 for Spain, followed by Italy in 1956, Germany in 1964, Great Britain in 1974 and Europe in 1982.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until 2006 that Michelin decided to branch out from its typical focus on Europe, releasing a dedicated guide for New York. This was then followed by further US guides, along with new publications for China and Japan.

Concentration of Quality

Having become the global benchmark for superior restaurant quality, Michelin Star ratings are now used to measure which town, cities, regions and countries excel in fine dining. When considered in relation to population size, Japan and Luxembourg currently lead the charge in terms of the most Michelin Star rated restaurants.

These are then followed by the United States, Switzerland, France Belgium and China. The United Kingdom falls in at a rather modest 12th position, suggesting there’s still work to be done to put Great Britain on the global culinary map!

The question being – what does it take to step into Michelin Star territory?

We’ll be covering that in our next post, so stay tuned…