What Are Michelin Stars?

You may have heard the term before, but it still might be a mystery to you. When looking up information about a fine dining restaurant or watching a cooking show featuring a world-renowned chef, a reference is made to “Michelin Stars”. You may ask yourself “Why would the name of a prestigious organization that is related to fine dining also the same as the tire company?” You might be surprise to learn that the name comes from the actual tire company from France. This inauspicious beginning led to one of the most respected restaurant review publication in the history of the modern world.


In 1900, the tire manufacturer began publishing a guidebook for French motorists. This was meant to encourage more car owners to drive more often, thus needing to change their tires more frequently (guess which tire company this guidebook suggested). In 1926, the newest editions of the guidebook started giving out star ratings for any restaurant that was reviewed in their travels. These reviewers were especially notable in that all of them were anonymous patrons of the establishment being reviewed – a tradition which has continued to this day. At first, only one star was used to indicate a high-quality establishment. Later one, in 1931, the rating system was expanded from one-star ratings to one, two and three-star ratings. Then, in 1936, a set of criteria was created for each star rating. Now, a restaurant can be rated from 0 (meaning the restaurant isn’t of high quality) to 3, with establishments not even worthy of a visit not listed in the guidebook at all.


The star rating is less an opinion on the food as an indicator of how much trouble you should go through to find yourself at an establishment. “One star” indicates that a restaurant is worth a visit while en route to your eventual destination. “Two stars” means that a restaurant is so good that it’s worth making a detour while on the road away from your original route to visit that establishment. But “Three Stars” is an indication that a restaurant is so good, you should make a special journey just to visit that restaurant all on its own.

You might be wondering why there’re only 3 stars to this rating system when you’ve heard people make references to 5 or 6-star chefs or hotels. This is due to other reputable guidebooks using a higher rating system – such as the Diamond rating of the American Automobile Association guidebook or Forbes Travel Guide. Other times, a chef referred to as a “5 Michelin Star Chef” is actually called this to describe how many total starts all of their establishments has earned in total. Also, hotels are rated on a different star scale from another country’s publication. For example, the European Hotel Stars Union has a six-star rating – not Michelin.