Are Michelin Stars The Best Way To Judge London Restaurants?

There's been a lot of buzz concerning Michelin Stars over October, but should restaurants live and die by their judgement? Can they afford it?
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There has been a lot of buzz concerning Michelin stars over the month of October, but should restaurants live and die by their judgement?

About two weeks ago, the famously tight-lipped Michelin judges held a live ceremony at the Hurlingham club in Fulham. There, they unveiled the brand new Michelin stars to the coveted Michelin Guide to the public for the first time. This marks a stark change in their manner of revealing their changes to the guide. In the past, the organisation has traditionally kept changes secret until its annual publication is released. The small red books include the best restaurants by countries like France and Japan, evaluated by rigorous standards. In a bustling hub like London, the awards were hotly anticipated as the city has a storied history with high-quality restaurants like Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. This would naturally invite a desire to stand among the greats and cement a venue’s status.

The Best New Restaurants in London?

In the English capital, Michelin  stars were awarded to six new restaurants – one three star, one two star and four one star restaurants. Among the winners were establishments like Sketch (***), La Dame Du Pic London (**), Mãos (*) and La Terra (*). One of the more shocking developments saw the high-end London sushi restaurant The Araki losing all three of their stars in a single year! The departure of founder and head chef Mitsuhiro Araki appears to have motivated the downgrade. With that change, many critics expected a loss of at least one star, but the loss of all three is both a testament to Michelin’s strict standards and poses the question of whether it is truly ‘only’ the food that is judged as Michelin adamantly claim time and again.

Has the impact of the food itself been outshined by the spectacle of the experience? For example, Sketch is well known for having one of the most expensive decor installations in the hospitality industry, costing around £12 million to refit in 2002. If its food was indeed absolutely top-class, most people could not even afford to verify that claim, as the price range that these restaurants advertise suggest that casual audiences may not be the intended customers.

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Michelin’s Way or The Highway

If Michelin stars have become a symbol of exclusivity, then they have certainly come far from being mere additions to a detailed travel guide. It’s ironic in a way that so few people can afford these restaurants when the guides intended to get more cars out on the road and sell more tyres! Obviously, as we’ve seen, the meaning of the Michelin Guide nowadays has become so much more than that; it has entered the mind of most professional chefs as an elusive dream to aspire to. Restaurants that get even one of the coveted stars are ‘set for life’ (or at least until their rating gets revoked), with most restaurants seeing a huge influx of new clientele. Some smaller establishment end up booked out for months with foodies flocking to judge the food for themselves.

Could the Pressure of Being ‘Elite’ Hurt Business?

It’s not really a question of whether this attention is deserved; most establishments awarded a new star or Bib Gourmand have achieved it due to the care they put into their food. There should be something that commemorates and recognises exceptional efforts, but unfortunately it comes with the baggage of massively increased expectations with newfound constant demand.

It also begs the question whether the business becomes sustainable in terms of costs. The quality of ingredients may have to increase, and more staff may have to be employed. There becomes a risk of obsessively wanting to retain the star which Michelin could take away at any time, and despite an increased number of customers the business may see a dangerous fall in profits. Costs are always a major concern, high-end restaurant or no – read more from us about how to mitigate labour costs from the beginning in our guide to starting your own restaurant:

The Food Tells The Story…

Other awards in the hospitality seem to measure success by different standards, as evidenced by the Observer Food Monthly Awards. This October in London, The Oystermen won the ‘Best Restaurant’ award decided by readership votes. The seafood restaurant has all the personality and quality of a Michelin-star restaurant with none of the expectations of formality. Its relaxed atmosphere has clearly resonated with its customer base, earning it a reputation that has won it awards without placing too much pressure on the owners to maintain standards – as the restaurant-goers are active contributors as a community.

Meanwhile, Master Wei received recognition by the judges as the ‘Best Newcomers’. The restaurant specialising in Xi’an cuisine serves as a window into a culinary environment that is exciting and unfamiliar to its London location. 

What is it about these restaurants that gain these accolades but don’t yet seem to meet Michelin’s standards? Do guides like Michelin promote new innovations in the hospitality industry, or does it gate keep what is considered good food and let restaurant owners down by creating standards that are nigh-impossible to maintain? If you’re looking for success in the restaurant business, building a reliable customer relationship on the floor might be more important than chasing the stars. London is a big place in itself, after all, and there are plenty of people that will personally value your service, no matter what you serve, if you care about what you’re doing for them.

Any Thoughts? Give Us a Shout on Social Media!

If you have any thoughts on the matter, let us know on social media on our Facebook page, @Bizimply on Twitter or on Linkedin. Whether you work at a restaurant with plans of achieving success in the Michelin Guide, or just want to see the smiles on your customer’s faces by serving good-quality food, everyone’s voices count.

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