How To Earn Your Restaurant's First, Coveted Michelin Star

Here's the inside track to making your love something to be treasured worldwide.
How To Earn Your Restaurant's First, Coveted Michelin Star
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya:

When most people think of fine dining, the first thing they think of is Michelin stars. They’re the Oscars of the culinary world, often sought-after by chefs around the globe looking to up their game and have their creativity and diligence appreciated.

Of course, a Michelin star is in no way a guarantee of success, nor is one permanent. It also doesn’t mean your food is finally validated, as many, many amazing restaurants have yet to earn one. However, chefs with ambition and restauranteurs (sometimes the same person) with dreams of heightened standards will often make this their goal.

The first Michelin stars were given in 1926 when the tire company decided they needed other travel-focused information friendly to drivers. They suggest that one star is a culinary delight worthy of a stop, two stars are worthy of a detour, and three stars are worthy of a special journey. 

In this post, we’ll discuss the foundational elements any chef can use to earn their restaurant’s first and coveted Michelin star. From there, sustaining it is up to you:

Achieve Consistency

Michelin inspectors are anonymous, and will never announce their arrival. For this reason, you can never tell when you might be undergoing an inspection. Of course, to undergo inspection in the first place is a privilege, as this only usually happens when a restaurant has enough exposure and interest to be notable. For this reason, inviting a visit means keeping your standards high and investing in good promotional quality.

Much like a visit from the healthcare department, the only way you can prepare for an inspector’s visit is to be consistent with your standards. This means making sure your staff are regularly trained, treated well, and motivated to keep standards high. It means implementing accountability measures, such as correctly disciplining and rewarding staff when they act out and in accordance with your instructions, respectively.

An inspector may even come twice to make sure their second time is as good as the first before awarding you the star. For this reason, implementing contingencies like secondary purveyors can help you manage the same standard if certain ingredients are no longer available.

Use Local, Well-Produced Ingredients

It’s essential to use local and well-produced ingredients if you’re to achieve a Michelin star. Their marking criteria tend to favor restaurants that care for their local scene, bring in fresh ingredients, handle them respectfully, and use that to emphasize the location you’re operating from. So, if you’re importing frozen fish from abroad despite living near the coast, well, that could be an issue.

Thankfully, most restaurants of note will have at least some local links to their local suppliers, be that fish markets, butchers, or farmers. If you can celebrate and center this in your food and marketing, then you may even encourage an inspection this year.

Cultivate A Pleasant Dining Space

While a three Michelin-star dining environment is expected to be functionally flawless, you should still try and maintain good standards at one star. Note that this doesn’t mean you have to decorate with highly expensive materials. It means providing an inviting, comfortable space with a nice ambience and pleasant staff.

This is influenced by many variables, for example, the cleanliness of the tablecloth and cutlery, the general smell of the restaurant, even small things like how clean your windows are. It might seem a little strange to check for those influences, after all, the quality of the food is often what inspires people to eat at your restaurant, not if your windows have streaks on them. But it’s all about providing a healthy dining atmosphere with as much attention to detail given as possible. Note that your Michelin inspectors aren’t looking to trip you up, for one star they’re more forgiving of minor issues, but it’s good to get in the habit of systemizing these maintenance measures ahead of time.

Do Many Small Things Well & Simplify

It’s easy to think only the most extravagant foods and ingredients will ever get attention from MIchelin, but that’s not necessarily the case. Great, honest food, cooked well and with love will almost always be good enough. 
It’s about doing many small things well. That might involve portion control, making sure a consistency of how you cook meats, considering presentation and how parties at a table might eat together. It’s also about being simple in what you offer, but offering it to a high quality. Any inspector will prefer this over any intensive flourishes you could make, and it goes to show that you don’t have to trick the game to get ahead - you just have to inject passion into what you do.

Empower Your Staff

Ultimately, it’s your staff that make it happen. You can only be a head chef with a team to rely on, or a restauranteur with a group of people you can trust to operate outside of your observation. 

When learning how to improve restaurant operations, make sure you centre your staff. This might mean offering them fair remuneration for their efforts, making sure tips are shared, providing clear and consistent shift patterns, and investing in their training and development over time.

It also means ensuring positive standards like how to help difficult customers, how to keep their uniform clean in a busy environment, and to let them charm guests unimpeded so they motivate those you welcome to your restaurant to have the best time of their week.

Don’t Reinvent The Wheel Without Cause

There are many restaurants out there, and many of them work perfectly well with or without a Michelin star. For this reason, it’s important to remember that chasing a star doesn’t necessarily mean altering everything you do, but refining it, and making it better.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You don’t have to ensure a dozen odd flavor combinations. Of course, you can always experiment and have fun with your restaurant, but make sure you stay in character with the concept you have and the theme you run. Keep your menu simple without trying to accommodate every single possible taste.

When you avoid reinventing the wheel, you can more easily focus on what it is you want to do. You can let conventional restaurant operating wisdom lift you up, as opposed to suppressing you. You can also accept that a restaurant just needs to feed people well and offer them a comforting time, nothing more and nothing less. Understanding that can grant you a sense of humility and acceptance, which is almost always the prerequisite to authenticity.

Manage Your Expectations

Michelin inspectors will usually visit once a year, and not always unless your restaurant has been considered “of note,” which usually comes from successfully serving your clientele for a number of years.

Chasing a star can be a fun approach to take, but remember that there are only so many inspectors and they won’t check every single establishment in the world scouting for talent. So, managing your expectations, working on your marketing, building your pedigree and your audience, all of this will sooner or later make you eligible for an inspection.

Moreover, if you’ve achieved all of that (which is much more important), then the eventual accolade is going to be the cherry on the cake, not the reason for existing to begin with. So managing expectations can help make your possible success that much sweeter.

With this advice, we hope you can become closer to earning that first, coveted Michelin star. If you’re even considering it, we hope we have the good fortune of eating at your restaurant one day.

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