The impact of Michelin stars on business

The Staff Canteen

On 25th September, chefs everywhere will be clenching their whisks and wooden spoons in anticipation of finding out whether they have gained or lost a Michelin star when the 2015 edition of the guide is released.

This can be a make-or-break moment for chefs and their restaurants, as business could boom or fall rather dramatically as a result.

Last year, only two restaurants made the mighty leap from one to two stars. One of the chefs who achieved this was Arnaud Bignon, who has been Head Chef at The Greenhouse in Mayfair, London since March 2012.

“When we were awarded the second star in September 2013, we had an increase of 25% in guests. It took us 17 months of hard work to be able to achieve it,” he says. “In the beginning, people were coming to see out of curiosity, but now we have regulars who come back for the epicurean experience we offer them. “It would be wonderful to get a third star, but we are focusing on offering the best experience we can to our customers, so only time will tell.”

A substantial list of British restaurants made it into the guide with a one-star rating last year. While some names have been long-time fixtures on the list, for some it was a new achievement. One of the newcomers to the prestigious list was Adam Stokes, Head Chef at the eponymous Adam’s in Birmingham City Centre. The chef previously won a star during his time as Head Chef at Glenapp Castle in 2011. Awarded the star after just six months of launching Adam’s, he admits it was a fantastic achievement.

“It was an amazing feeling to get it for Glenapp,” he confides, “but to get it for my own restaurant was very special. It’s been a life-long aim for me to have a star to my name.  “

We opened up in April 2013 and throughout the summer our business was getting busier and busier, and by the time the Michelin Guide came out in September, we had almost reached capacity. Now we are full most nights. I wouldn’t say the star made us busier but it’s definitely maintained a busy restaurant.”

Stokes continues: “I think some chefs get hung up on trying to please the guide and that’s not the case for me. I cook my food, which is different to the next chef’s food and I think Michelin might like that as well, the individuality of a restaurant, and Adam’s has definitely got its own identity. “When Michelin come along again, if they do decide give us two stars then fantastic. We’re literally just cooking the food that we cook and always trying to be better than we were yesterday.”

Shaun Rankin has been a Michelin starred chef since 2005, when he was Head Chef in the kitchen of Bohemia in St Helier, Jersey. Shaun has since left the establishment and opened up his own restaurant named Ormer, also in St Helier. It was awarded a star just four months after opening. Rankin believes that his customers expected Michelin star standards from the moment Ormer opened its doors, but appreciated the validation nevertheless.

The chef says, “It was a more joyous feeling being awarded the star for my own restaurant. It’s your own place so it means a lot more. It’s for the kitchen brigade as well. They’ve worked massively hard so from their point of view it was like a breath of fresh air to know we were still at that standard. It’s very important.”

16 months into the business, Rankin admits that he feels relaxed about the restaurant’s place in the market, explaining, “We are not located in the middle of London so we don’t have a 20 million population, we have a population of 85,000 in Jersey. You need to be really careful regarding your business model and your market. You can have a star, amazing, but if you’ve got an empty restaurant you’re not going to be successful in business then you’re going to close. “You’ve got to move with your food, your operations, your clients, your markets and your business, and understanding that first and foremost. If you happen to get the accolades along the way, that’s just a bonus.”

Unfortunately, the Michelin Guide doesn’t always deliver good news. In the 2014 edition, 10 restaurants lost their star. Although some have since closed down, others have pushed forward with business as usual. Locks Brasserie, in Portobello, Dublin gained one Michelin star in 2013 but lost it the following year – just three months after Keelan Higgs took over the reins as Head Chef.

“I was there for two and a half years before, so I had very much been a part of the gaining of it [the star] through writing menus and looking after the kitchen. When you’ve put in eight to 10 years of being a chef and then get something like that, it’s the best feeling ever really, and then losing it is probably the worst thing that can happen,” Higgs admits. “I would say it probably killed about half our business at least.

“What we did was rebuild our team and then started to write down our recipes religious, so my sous chef and I were developing dishes with everything written out and practiced to a tee. For us, it’s about getting the consistency down and exactly the style of food we do was very important. I think our food is more consistent and more in tune with the direction that we’re going for than it’s ever been at Locks.”

Another chef familiar with Higgs’ experience is Simon Haigh, who was Executive Chef at Mallory Court (The Dining Room) when they discovered they had lost their Michelin star, previously held for 10 years.

“I was quite upset, but on the flip-side I was a little bit relieved as well because you’re not having to look over your shoulder every day. “The first mood was disbelief. I remember sitting at home on the computer when my eldest son came in and asked what I was doing. When I told him we had lost a star, he replied, ‘Well that’s not good, is it?” and I said, “No, not really!” but we sat down together and counted all the guidebooks that we had appeared in with a star and we got to 17.

“We can be very proud of what we’ve done and achieved over the years. When you look at it like that, it’s more positive than negative.

“Most of the guests didn’t know because they don’t go out and buy the guidebook. We felt that we’d done nothing differently, and we were just doing what we’d always done, and the guests didn’t notice any difference.

“It probably impacts a little bit later on in the year, when people that are having weddings at your hotel think it isn’t going to be the same, but we assured them that it will be. We had to build the confidence back up with those guests. “The principle thing with hotels and restaurants is that you’ve got to cook for your customer, and that’s what we do. If the guys at Michelin want to recognise that food along the way then we’re more than grateful to receive it.”

Even after 92 years, when the star rating system was first introduced to the guide, Michelin stars still appear to be a huge influence on the business for the majority of those who gain or lose them. However, others seem to take it in their stride and appreciate the recognition while believing that focusing on making the customer happy is what matters at the end of the day.

Either way, the 2015 Michelin Guide will still make the headlines this September, and no chef can deny their curiosity for the results. Watch this space for our follow-up piece, where we asked our Facebook and Twitter followers if they think the Michelin Guide is still important and relevant, and whether it’s still considered the highest accolade for chefs.

Remember, and our social media will be the only place to be when the results are revealed on September 25th.

By Alys Penfold

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th September 2014

The impact of Michelin stars on business