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Wealthy, gastronomically inclined consumers rely on restaurant guides for their eating pleasure. There is no shortage of restaurant guides – Michelin, GaultMilau, Zagat, AAA (American Automobile Association), Fodor’s Restaurant Guide, several State restaurant guides, are only a few that come to mind.
In addition to all above, large-circulation newspapers employ food critics who publish their reviews in the weekend edition.
Even small circulation newspapers have restaurant critics who generally know little about food, but can write well.
Restaurant critics come in two categories – some understand how restaurants function, and know food, others write well but have little or no idea regarding food, service, décor and beverages.
The ideal restaurant critic is one who knows a lot about food, appreciates the importance of décor, is familiar with good service practices and can write well. There are a few critics who know a lot about food , but fail to understand the importance of service, selection and choice of beverages offered comfort and décor.
Restaurant guides can be conveniently divided into independent and objective with high standards, and those who rely on the dining-out public (Zagat is only one example).
Finally, there are publications masquerading as guides, but happen to be glorified advertising in book form.
Most Reliable Guides
Of all the above, the most reliable are hose independent that employ knowledgeable and well-trained incognito individuals who dine in restaurants assigned to them by their editor. They make reservations under assumed names, and evaluate every service the establishment offers, including the cleanliness of the washrooms.
The restaurant product consists of a “bundle” of goods and services. Critics must consider all factors in their evaluation; however the taste of food, plate presentation and service should weigh more than other contributors.
Of all the restaurant guides Michelin is the best known, most reliable and oldest. Andre Michelin created the guide Michelin, in 1900, to assist gastronomically oriented wealth individuals in their restaurant choices while travelling. He was the cofounder of the factory that is now one of the best tire manufacturers of the world.
In this red-cover book, all the “worthy” restaurants in France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the U K are evaluated and listed. Restaurants are rated on a scale of three stars.
One star means good if the restaurant is located on your route; two stars indicate worth-a-detour; and three stars imply worth a special trip.
Many French chefs clamour to get listed in this venerable restaurant guide starting with one star and gradually trying to obtain the maximum three. On occasion an inspector may decide to downgrade a restaurant from three stars to two. Such a move means a substantial revenue loss for the restaurant (some claim as much as two million Euros per annum), but more importantly for an eccentric, ego-driven chef it means a huge personal disappointment. Some take it as a challenge and vow to regain the lost star, others taker it more philosophically. On the other hand a Michelin inspector may downgrade a restaurant two consecutive years, after visiting it a few times.
Such a move is never taken lightly, and is considered by more than one individual.
Presently there are 26 three star restaurants, 76 two and 438 one star restaurants in France.
Michelin also publishes maps and tourist guides. The total of the publishing business employs 550 individuals, not including restaurant critics.
Recently, chef Loiseau committed suicide after losing his second star in as many years. Some say an inspector must never be too harsh, however one can only judge a restaurant based on the last meal it served.
It should be pointed out that it was GaultMillau guide that downgraded Mr Loiseau but any other reputable guide would have done the same thing if the product did live up to the standards set.
Some chefs understand perfectly that their presence in the kitchen is paramount to continue their success. Others feel they can open and operate many restaurants leaving the management to trusted employees. The fact remains that a restaurant is a highly personal establishment and any chef wanting to build and maintain a reputation must work at it constantly. The brothers Troigros always worked in the kitchen. After the death of one brother the other continues to cook and supervise the kitchen.
Famous chefs in the past tried to open restaurants in France, the USA and Japan, hoping to be able to control and manage all operations by “remote” control. It did not work!
Quality and presentation fluctuations other than those beyond the control of the chef, are unacceptable because the charges remain constant.
Restaurateurs seeking perfection constantly and striving to reach that elusive goal of three stars, but then they must redouble their efforts to deliver the level commensurate to the rating expected.
The answer to those restaurateurs who lose one star is to regain it, not suicide.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu