The Michelin dining guide will upgrade three restaurants, all in France, to three-star status. One three-star restaurant will be demoted to two stars. The Michelin three-star designation is the highest a restaurant can obtain, right now there are only twenty-seven three-star restaurants in the world.
Perhaps it is no accident that only three stars are used for the world’s most rigorous restaurant system (Gault-Milleau, in contrast, has a scale up to twenty). The smaller the number of stars, the harder it is to inflate the standard. If the scale has one hundred steps, no one can really tell if a “73” restaurant is pushed up to a “75” rating by mistake. Ratings inflation can slip in over time. But everyone knows if a restaurant is elevated to three-star status by mistake.
Michelin precommits to quality rankings and takes great care to preserve its name as a restaurant “gold standard.” It is commonly believed that the number of three-star restaurants in France is capped, in fact it has remained close to twenty-one since the mid-1930s. Furthermore it is harder to get back a third star once you have lost it, than to win it in the first place, see the first link for more information.
French cooking may be suffering under excess taxes and labor market regulation, but French food criticism is alive and well, in this case under corporate auspices and subsidy. The Red Guide does not make money on its own terms, but rather serves to advertise the parent company and burnish its image. It is a classic instance of the private production of public goods.
So the next time that Roger Ebert gives a movie either a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down,” this is a signal that he is offering a truly important evaluation.