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The curious story of Michelin Guide: why a tyres company has been interested in restaurants?

3 min read

Here we are:

The Michelin Red Guide is the sacred text of cooking enthusiasts, and the nightmare of many chefs, where the opinions expressed on the guide can determine the fate, positive or negative, of any restaurant…but why a tyres company has the idea to publish a guide to the best restaurants, which over the decades has become the reference point of gastronomic tourism? A brilliant idea and a creative marketing strategy began the publication of the Michelin Guide, created to encourage the use of cars.

The French brothers Edouard and André Michelin founded their tyre company in 1889, innovating the sector with the invention of the removable and repairable tyre in a short time.
In 1900, when the Guide was born, the company almost exclusively produced bicycle tyres, because in France the number of cars in circulation was very small: not even 3,000 cars.
What did the two enterprising brothers invent themselves? A tourist guide for French drivers, printed in 35,000 copies and distributed free. The idea was as simple as it was ingenious: to encourage people to move, to travel, to increase the demand for cars and consequently tyres.

The guide provided useful information such as road maps and location of hotels and filling stations, as well as instructions on how to repair or replace a tyre, and a list of mechanical workshops distributed throughout France. In the following years, guides were published for Belgium, Algeria and Tunisia, and then Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Portugal.
The Michelin guides continued to be distributed free until 1920, when André Michelin saw one of his client, who used two stacks of guides to support a work plan. Taking into consideration that “man respects only what he pays for”, the entrepreneur decided to start charging the guides.

It was not the only change: the restaurants were listed according to specific criteria, so that the section dedicated to them was the most appreciated of all the guide, which was doubled: a touristic, with a green cover, and a gastronomic, with the red cover.
The brothers then decided to form a team of inspectors, strictly anonymous, who had to visit and review the restaurants. And so, in 1926, the famous and notorious star was born, but since 1931 the evaluation has become more detailed, reaching three stars (including zero): the restaurants of low quality are not even mentioned, so zero stars is already a good rating, a star indicates “an excellent restaurant in its category”, two stars “excellent cuisine, deserves a detour”, three stars “exceptional cuisine, deserves a trip”.

The awarding of Michelin stars is somewhat the equivalent of the Oscars in the world of cinema, while the starred chefs are now famous people like many stars of the show.
Who knows if Edouard and André Michelin expected such a result when they released their first free guide back in the early 1900s….

Images from the web // public demain

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