Returning the star

Michelin stars

A Michelin star rating can put a restaurant on the map. It can also put it in a straitjacket, which is why a number of chefs are giving back their stars, says Fortune magazine. Another issue plaguing starred restaurants isn’t the constraint placed upon them, but rather that diners have come to expect a certain type of atmosphere. Some avant garde restaurants don’t fit into that mold and diners can feel let down.

Australian chef Skye Gyngell learned this the hard way. “People have certain expectations of a Michelin restaurant, but we don’t have cloths on the tables, our service isn’t very formal. You know, if they’re used to eating at Marcus Wareing [a two-star restaurant in London’s Berkeley hotel], then they feel let down when they come here,” Gyngell told Australia’s Good Weekend magazine. Gyngell took the star off her London restaurant, Petersham Nurseries Café, and quit a short time later. She has since opened a new restaurant, which does not have a star.

Chef Julio Biosca returned his Michelin star for a different reason. While he respects the star system and recognizes that his Michelin star helped popularize his restaurant, he also felt pressured by it.  Biosca “felt that he’d been awarded it for a certain culinary project, which included a tasting menu and complicated dishes, and the award gave customers very specific expectations. The star was an honor but also a straitjacket” that limited his creative ability.

The decisions made by these chefs are not the norm. “A Michelin star is the life goal of many restaurateurs, and the distinction has immense marketing power. “Michelin puts you on the gastronomic map, literally,” says Spanish food critic Julia Pérez Lozano.

But keeping the Michelin star is not a guarantee of success for a restaurant. Restaurants that are awarded stars often feel pressure to invest in decor and service and to raise prices. Even though the star rating may increase traffic in the restaurant, it doesn’t always translate into financial reward as nearly half of starred restaurants aren’t profitable.

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One Comment

  • Christine  on  December 14, 2014

    Fascinating! I will admit I'm not much of a restaurant person, but knowing how coveted the stars are, it's amazing to realize there can be a downside in some cases and that so many starred restaurants aren't profitable — I know it's a tough business, but I never would have guessed the "best of the best" can struggle that much financially.

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