How Restaurants Get Michelin Stars: A Brief History of the Michelin Guide

A Michelin star rating is one of the most prestigious honors a restaurant can receive. Learn how restaurants get stars and how the Michelin Guide started.

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February 9, 2024 8 min read

Have you ever wondered how restaurants get Michelin Stars? Or how the Michelin Star rating system came to be?

The iconic rating, which is awarded to restaurants that meet exceptionally high standards of cooking, has an origin story with very little relation to cuisine.

Here at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, we thought you should know the whole story. After all, some of the cooks we’re training may aspire to join the ranks of restaurants recommended in the famous Michelin Guide.

The Unexpected Origins of the Michelin Guide

Interestingly, the invention of the Michelin Star rating coincides with the invention of the automobile. Michelin Tire founders and French industrialist brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin compiled the first Michelin Guide in 1900 with the aim of creating a demand for automobiles—and therefore, a need for more Michelin tires.

A close-up of a square red Michelin sign, reading "Michelin 2023."

The Michelin Star rating coincided with the invention of the automobile.

The French guide was handed out for free and included maps, plus instructions on how to repair and change tires. To encourage drivers to use their cars and explore a little more, the guide also included a list of restaurants, hotels, mechanics, and gas stations along popular routes in France.

Within a decade, the Michelin Guide expanded rapidly and became available throughout Europe, as well as Northern Africa.

The Evolution of the Michelin Star Rating System

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 temporarily halted production of the guide, but by 1920 it was back on track and about to enter an important new phase. According to a “favorite anecdote” on the Michelin Guide website, Andre Michelin showed up at a tire shop one day to find one of the guides being used to prop up a workbench.

“Based on the principle that ‘man only truly respects what he pays for,’ a brand new MICHELIN Guide was launched in 1920 and sold for seven francs,” the story goes.

The Michelin brothers ramped up the guide’s quality, eliminated advertising, added a list of hotels in Paris and categorized the list of restaurants. They also recruited mystery diners to visit and review restaurants anonymously.

The guide began awarding Michelin Star ratings in 1926. The restaurants, all of which were in France, were awarded a single star if they were deemed a “fine dining establishment.” In 1931, the rating system expanded to the three-star rating that continues today.

Unlike most star rating systems, one star is not considered a demerit. Any number of Michelin Stars granted to a restaurant signals a huge honor and a rare accomplishment.


  • One star: A very good restaurant in its category.
  • Two stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
  • Three stars: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.
The guide took a hiatus during World War II, and only resumed in late 1939 because it contained maps that were useful to the Allied Forces. However, the Michelin Star rating was reduced to a two-star system during this time because of food shortages. Understandably, quality suffered at restaurants throughout Europe, so the yardstick was adjusted accordingly.

In 1955, Michelin came up with a rating system that acknowledged restaurants serving high-quality fare at moderate prices, called the Bib Gourmand. This system highlights dining opportunities that are more reflective of economic standards. Because the ratings are customized by region and country based on the cost of living, the Bib Gourmand gives diners a chance to eat well without breaking the bank.

The Michelin Guide in the 21st Century

The Michelin Star rating didn’t take hold in the United States until 2005, and it began by concentrating solely on fine dining in New York City. Today, the Michelin Guide reviews restaurants in select U.S. cities, including Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. If one of your goals as an aspiring chef is to work at a Michelin Star restaurant, you may want to focus on these cities after graduation.

The guide now covers 37 countries across Europe, Asia, North America, and South America. There’s also a related ranking — the Michelin Green Star — which is awarded to the best, most sustainable restaurants around the world.


  1. France: 625
  2. Japan: 414
  3. Italy: 380
  4. Germany: 328
  5. Spain: 248

How Does a Restaurant Get a Michelin Star?

To determine who receives the annual award, the Michelin Guide team will first select a number of restaurants in specific locations to be inspected by anonymous reviewers, called inspectors. The inspectors visit multiple times in different seasons and at different times, i.e. making sure to eat lunch and dinner and to visit on weekends and during the week.

Inspectors write a comprehensive report about the total culinary experience, including the quality and presentation of the dishes, among other rating criteria outlined below. The group of Michelin inspectors will then meet to analyze the reports and discuss in-depth which restaurants are worthy of a Michelin Star (or two or three).

Chef Curtis Duffy, a friend of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, partnered with Michael Muser to build restaurant Grace in Chicago, which was honored with three Michelin Stars four years in a row, from 2015 to 2018. In July 2020, Duffy opened a new restaurant called Ever, which has earned two Michelin Stars.

“When I started at Avenues, they announced [the Michelin stars], and I was really excited about where I stood in the whole world of cuisine. I was just getting my voice in the world. The first year that it came out in Chicago, we were able to receive two Michelin stars. And that was an incredible feat. It just solidified that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.”*
Curtis Duffy
Curtis Duffy
Executive Chef/Owner of two-Michelin Star Restaurant Ever

Elements of the restaurant such as ambiance, decor, and quality of service are supposedly not considered in the report, but many think that the total experience may subconsciously woo the reviewers.


  1. Quality of products
  2. Mastery of flavor and cooking techniques
  3. The personality of the chef represented in the dining experience
  4. Value for money
  5. Consistency between inspectors’ visits

How Important Are Michelin Stars?

No doubt, restaurants that receive a Michelin Star rating gain prestige and usually get an increase in exposure and business. However, because of the extremely high expectations in the rating system, there’s been a growing trend to reject Michelin Star ratings around the world—some restaurateurs even demanding that their star rating be removed. They feel that the expectations of the star system are unreasonable and restrict a chef’s creativity in the kitchen.

“We were talking about putting a piece of china down and making sure that it was perfectly an inch from the edge of the table, and just…going into extreme lengths. And I think that could break somebody. As long as we’re doing things with passion and love, and everybody has the right goal, it’s inevitable that you’re going to continue down that path.”*
Curtis Duffy
Curtis Duffy
Executive Chef/Owner of two-Michelin Star Restaurant Ever

Still, in today’s culinary industry there’s a reverence for the iconic Michelin Star rating system. Some restaurateurs go so far as to say it’s the only rating that matters, deeming it authentic because Michelin inspectors are among the few who remain completely anonymous when reviewing a restaurant.

Although some restaurant owners and employees claim to have figured out how to identify an inspector, in theory the casual diner will have the same experience as the inspector. And if a restaurant is attentive enough to figure out the signals a Michelin Star inspector gives away, then that’s a restaurant that pays very close attention to its craft, and is probably worth a visit!

“When things are going either good or bad, they constantly remind us that any diner is a suspected Michelin inspector. Every plate that goes out of the kitchen is well-inspected.”*
Parker Wilks-Bryant
Parker Wilks-Bryant
Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate

Take the First Step to Excellence

Although chefs don’t earn Michelin Stars, the head chef at a restaurant is often given credit for the restaurant’s success. Therefore, many young chefs dream of one day leading a restaurant to Michelin Star status.

One way to begin this journey can be by attending culinary school. Escoffier’s culinary arts programs introduce students to a wide range of topics including food safety, world cuisines, flavor development, and entrepreneurship. But students don’t just learn about these topics in the classroom—they practice them in the kitchen and eventually test them out during an industry externship.

If you want to find out what culinary school could look like for you, contact us today to explore your options.


This article was originally published on February 10, 2016, and has since been updated.

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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