Food lovers and critics see the Michelin Star as an important accolade that helps restaurants secure themselves as businesses worth visiting. However, few people know how and why the Michelin Star became a beacon of quality in the culinary world. As a result, new restaurant owners and chefs aspiring to make great cuisine might feel overwhelmed or discouraged that they don't have what it takes to earn a prestigious star.

You, fortunately, don't need to make life-changing nigiri sushi or an experimental calamari dish to receive a Michelin Star or land a spot on the Michelin Guide. To help clear some misconceptions on how to get a Michelin Star, we've researched and found straightforward answers on what Michelin inspectors are explicitly looking for when dining at a restaurant.

Spoiler alert: it all starts with excellent cooking and dedicated chefs.

What is a Michelin Star?

A Michelin Star is an award created by the Michelin Tire Company to recognize quality food from amazing restaurants in a specific city. According to the Michelin guide, Michelin recruits food professionals to review restaurants anonymously and determine if the restaurant's cuisine meets the guide's standards.

A star from Michelin is more than a good food recommendation or an attempt to sell more Michelin tires. A Michelin Star represents a memorable dining experience thanks to the dedication and drive of the chefs in the kitchen. Even if a restaurant hopes to receive multiple Michelin Stars, the guide inspectors still prioritize delicious food before anything else.

Michelin Star origin

French road signs for Michelin tires guide restaurant hotels.
The Michelin guide first started in France back in the early 1920s.

It's easy to assume that the Michelin Tire Company needed an excuse to sell their tires. However, when Michelin first sold guides in 1920, the tire company had a humble goal in mind. Michelin wanted to create a go-to resource for French motorists traveling throughout the countryside. If a driver needed instructions on changing a tire, where to fill up on some gas, or finding a place to rest for the night, they could consult the latest Michelin Guide. The guide in the early days still included a list of impressive restaurants worth a detour on a trip.

The first Michelin Star was given to a French cuisine restaurant in 1926. Michelin introduced the three-star system in 1936. After a brief hiatus during World War 2, the Michelin Guide continued operating and eventually positioned itself as an extensive resource covering restaurants and hotels on over three continents.

Anyone going on a road trip or looking for a good restaurant in a city can still purchase physical Michelin guides. As the guide grew in popularity and technology became a larger aspect of everyone’s daily lives, Michelin created an online version of their guide as well. While they won't stumble on a French restaurant that exclusively serves foie gras, the Michelin Guide website also contains a list of restaurants updated yearly. We recommend using the Michelin guide for cities like New York City, San Francisco, or Las Vegas during Restaurant Week.

How to get a Michelin Star

When awarding stars, Michelin Guide inspectors aren't exactly looking for haute cuisine or fine-dining restaurants that cost $350 a plate. They're craving food cooked intentionally, with a sense of confidence and respect for the eating experience itself. Michelin Star restaurants don't need a French chef in the kitchen using revolutionary cooking techniques. A Mexican restaurant that serves the best al pastor tacos in town can earn a single star just as easily as a gourmet BBQ restaurant.

Michelin star chef restaurant grilling cooking food serve to guests
The Michelin Star recognizes quality food made by passionate chefs.

Five criteria for Michelin-starred restaurants

Michelin relies on five criteria to create a cohesive measurement of a restaurant's cuisine. Michelin implemented these standards since enjoying amazing food is often seen as a subjective experience based on people's tastes and expectations. However, by staying true to these five measurements of quality, Michelin can offer a standard that guests can use to assess the meal alongside their tastes.

A restaurant, according to Michelin, can earn a star if a chef focuses on:

  1. Quality of ingredients in a restaurant's dish
  2. How flavor and technique create great cuisine
  3. Price value for the cuisine
  4. How a chef's personality shines in the food itself
  5. Overall consistency of dining experience

While Michelin might sound vague, this ambiguity benefits restaurateurs. Without getting too specific, Michelin leaves space for chefs to interpret and let their creativity flow according to the cuisine and service style. Michelin ultimately aims to reward restaurants for their ability to embody those five criteria at once, all with a flair of originality and creativity.

1. Quality of the ingredients

It might be an obvious factor in becoming a Michelin-starred restaurant, but you'd be surprised how some restaurants don't prioritize quality ingredients in their dishes. In an exclusive interview with former Michelin Guide inspector Chris Watson, he states that local and seasonal ingredients, in particular, make a meal seem unique and specific to that restaurant, even if other restaurants are using similar ingredients.

Of course, access to quality ingredients depends on your restaurant's budget, inventory capabilities, location, and food supplier. It'd be a lot pricier to get fresh lobster for a dish if your restaurant is far from a decent seafood supplier compared to your ability to buy quality chicken. If you're a restaurant operating on a tight budget, try our menu engineering worksheet to evaluate your potential profit behind each dish.

Menu engineering worksheet

2. Harmony of flavors and culinary techniques

If another chef can buy and use the same ingredients as your restaurant, what stops them from making the same meal? One answer: flavor. When a restaurant uses its ingredients to create an unforgettable meal, a Michelin inspector will quickly see how and why a restaurant stands above the rest.

How the food gets made is just as important as the food itself. A restaurant with one star doesn't just serve quality food. They serve food that makes the guests want to compliment the chef. In the exclusive interview mentioned earlier, Watson points out that culinary techniques add a unique wow factor that separates a restaurant with a single Michelin Star apart from the rest.

3. Value for money

Michelin Stars might have a reputation for only being awarded to formal restaurants with a high price point. However, many inspectors know that most restaurants raise the price of certain menu items to make dishes seem prestigious without improving the food.

In reality, the price of the meal should correspond to the quality of the food alongside the restaurant's overall budget and profit goals. If you’re a restaurant itching for one or two stars, try using SpotOn's profit margin calculator to learn if tech can unlock a new dimension to your overall budget.

Profit margin calculator

4. Expression of the chef's personality through the cuisine

Sometimes guests forget there's a dedicated chef in the kitchen working hard to make a fantastic meal. For Michelin, that hard work deserves to be seen through the food itself since the dishes aren't simply made in a vacuum. If any ordinary chef can make a meal at your restaurant, what can your chefs provide to make that Beef Wellington unique to a restaurant? That personality factor can best be seen as its secret ingredient that can't be bought—it can only be earned through experience.

5. Consistency of food and dining experience

Any restaurant can make a decent meal every now and then, but will your restaurant consistently serve that signature dish to perfection every time? Since Michelin inspectors know a good restaurant isn't just a fluke, consistency becomes a key dimension to awarding a star rating.

For example, SingleThread is a three-star restaurant situated on a farm. The restaurant inspects every local resource and ingredient that passes through their kitchen to ensure that meals are consistently high-quality. Even if the ingredients vary each season, SingleThread still offers that commitment to continually offering a meal worth a special journey.

Different Michelin Star ratings

Michelin offers a three-star rating system to recognize restaurants that exceed the five criteria listed above. A restaurant with two or three stars offers an exceptional food experience that surpasses the usual expectations.

Here's a summary of the Michelin star rating system:

  • One Michelin Star means your restaurant has high-quality cooking that meets the five criteria to create a delicious and memorable meal.
  • Two Michelin Stars means your restaurant has excellent cooking that is worth a detour. Your chef can create a dish with complex flavors that can wow guests.
  • Three Michelin Stars means your restaurant offers exceptional cuisine worth a special journey. There’s something unique here that can’t be found anywhere else, and that makes the restaurant shine like a diamond.

According to the Michelin website, even when most stars are awarded to restaurants with quality food, there are still many great reasons to visit a business, even if it doesn't have a Michelin Star. That's why Michelin created other award categories in the Michelin guide. To explore the quality of a restaurant's service, interior decor, and table setting, Michelin uses 'covers,' symbolized by a fork and spoon symbol.

What is a Green Michelin Star?

Two chefs in a Green Michelin restaurant inspecting vegtables.
A Green Michelin Star shows a restaurant is dedicated to reducing waste and creating sustainable meals.

A Green Michelin Star rating is given to restaurants that offer sustainable gastronomy as part of their service. These restaurants work hard to reduce food waste and eliminate non-recyclables like plastic from their daily operations. A Green Michelin Star restaurant collaborates with local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and so on to ensure the chefs leave a small environmental footprint.

Michelin created the Green Star in 2020 to prove that culinary excellence and sustainable practices are achievable with enough careful planning and consideration. Like the other Michelin accolades, the Green Star is an annual award.

What is a Bib Gourmand?

Michelin's Bib Gourmand is an award given to restaurants offering affordable meals emphasizing quality and recognizability. Unlike the Michelin Star, which provides a more sophisticated and complicated food experience at times, the Bib Gourmand highlights a simple menu that will always hit the spot for anyone looking for a meal they recognize.

Michelin-starred restaurant examples

While we've discussed five main ways any restaurant can polish their service to catch the attention of a Michelin Guide inspector, there are many ways to fulfill the Michelin Star criteria in a restaurant.

Michelin wants to find creative and inventive cooking worth a detour. To show how different restaurants approach those criteria, we've included three Michelin-starred restaurants offering various cuisine types.

Cote - One Michelin Star

Cote offers a unique mix of Korean BBQ and the American steakhouse experience.

Cote, located in New York City, is a fine-dining restaurant unlike any other. Often seen as a combination of traditional Korean BBQ and homage to the classic American steakhouse, Cote embodies the five criteria Michelin sets for a single star. Guests are treated to various meats and appetizers based on the menu options until service staff arrive to expertly grill the premium-quality beef to perfection. Cote is particularly proud to be the first Korean BBQ restaurant to receive a Michelin Star.

Aquavit - Two Michelin Stars

Minimalism might be the secret ingredient to Aquavit's gourmet cuisine.

Aquavit is the perfect example of a restaurant that is fearless in showing its influence. Located in New York City, Aquavit offers a minimalist yet exquisite Nordic menu focusing on quality and flavor. The Michelin Guide specifically adores the way Aquavit carefully transforms the tradition of Nordic cuisine into a memorable experience worthy of two stars.

SingleThread - Three Michelin Stars

SingleThread offers a three-star experience thanks to their farm and dedicated chefs.

SingleThread is a restaurant that defies our definition of a restaurant. Located in Healdsburg, SingleThread offers five luxurious guest rooms for anyone looking to escape the city. Inspired by Japanese cuisine and hospitality, the restaurant's menu offers various fresh meals sourced from the restaurant's farm.

Thanks to its sustainable practices, SingleThread even earned a Green Michelin Star. According to owner-chef Kyle Connaughton, the nearby farm grows 70% of the produce used in the restaurant without using municipal water.

Is the Michelin Guide only fine-dining restaurants?

No, any restaurant can land a spot on the Michelin Guide if it serves quality, delicious food. You can check for yourself by heading to the Michelin Guide website and filtering out restaurants based on price range and cuisine type. You can even find restaurants with different ratings that still signify quality food.

How many Michelin Stars can you get in a year?

A restaurant can receive one to three stars yearly, not including the Green Michelin Star. If the restaurant meets the criteria to maintain three Michelin Stars yearly, it will retain its three-star status on the Michelin Guide.

Michelin star fine-dining restaurant serving food for guests
Consistency in quality will ensure a Michelin restaurant will retain its prestigious star status.

A restaurant can receive fewer stars each year. Restaurants tend to lose stars if the head chef leaves or if there are any other changes to the high-quality cooking that first placed them on the Michelin Guide map.

Are Michelin Stars annual awards?

Yes, Michelin Stars are awarded to restaurants on an annual basis. Since Michelin inspectors are expected to evaluate a wide range of restaurants worldwide, they award Michelin awards at different times each year. The Michelin Green Star and Bib Gourmand ratings are also given out at slightly different times, depending on the region.

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