What makes a restaurant a 5 star?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by MattBu, Dec 20, 2003.

  1. MattBu

    MattBu Stunt Coordinator

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    A fairly straight forward question "What makes a restaurant a 5 star?". Is there some kind of organization that makes this call? Certain standards for service and ingredients?
     
  2. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Fairly straight-forward answer - the same thing that makes a movie a "five-star", getting five out of five possible stars in a critic's review. Technically any restaurant that has earned five stars from some critic can call itself a five star joint - even if the critic writes for Guns and Ammo.

    More commonly the designation derives specifically from reviews by annually published travel guides to major cities like Fodor's and, especially, Michelin. If I'm not mistaken Michelin introduced the "star" system in this application to give readers an "at-a-glance" over-all rating for a restaurant. A five star is one where the food, service, ambience, etc. are all exceptional. (I'm not sure if Michelin borrowed the system from movie critics or vice versa, but either way you can see its utility in both applications.)

    There is no "universal" rating. Michelin may give a place five stars while Fodor's gives it four or vice versa, for instance. Michelin probably has the edge as the "authority", though, because it is the older of the two and probably more widely used. Certainly hotels (which are also rated) and restaurants seem to be more upset (and have their business hurt more) if they lose a star in Michelin than in Fodor's and they will try very hard to get that star back in time for the following year's guides.

    One reason you won't find a five star restaurant in the sticks is that Michelin critics (and their readers) don't travel in the sticks - so even in the unlikely event that there is a truly outstanding French restaurant in Keokuk, Iowa, Michelin's critics will never get within a hundred miles of it, so it isn't going to get five stars. (And let's face it, chances are there aren't going to be enough serious food-nuts to keep the head chef honest anyway. You need a brutally competitive big city - or incredibly rich suburban - atmosphere to keep that kind of pressure on a guy. [​IMG] See Calvin Trillin's food books for more on this subject. [​IMG])

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  3. Jason_Els

    Jason_Els Screenwriter

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    Any kind of subjective rating system is just that- subjective. There is no solid rule as to what makes a restaurant qualify for that kind of rating because the ratings are based upon a reviewer using a system.

    That said, restaurant ratings are usually handed-out by a few organizations recognized for having a staff of very knowledgable gastronomes with discerning tastes. The idea of rating restaurants began in France with Michelin. Michelin makes not only tires, but travel guides and road maps and were the first company in France to do so. People traveling by car wanted to know what hotels or restaurants were good. The French are (surprise) very big on food. Unlike the US, some chefs achieve superstar status traveling around in limousines with fans begging for autographs and being written about in the society and gossip pages. There are famous American chefs certainly but few attain household name status as they do in France. France not only has famous chefs, but also famous eaters! Called gastronomes they were usually men of the upper class who reviewed restaurants for their monied friends and so became opinion leaders and the first reviewers. Brillat-Savarin is the most famous of these and one of the first to try and make culinary arts into a science.

    Michelin rates restaurants (and hotels) by the star system. Even attaining one star is an achivement. The vast majority of places don't even rate a star. Two stars and you're on the map. Three stars and your career as a chef is assured. Three stars is as good as it gets in the Michelin world. To attain those stars your restaurant must be tastefully decorated, your staff attentive (but not hovering) and knowledgable about the menu to the point of knowing what you want before you do. If it seems impossible it isn't. All diners give subtle cues which an attentive wait staff will read and respond to immediately.

    And then there's the food...... Your food must be sublime. Ingredients must be exceptionally fresh and your cuts of meat the finest available. Everything from the croutons to the petits fours must be unique and delicious. The food doesn't have to be complex but the dish has to meld all the ingredients into a symphony of flavors serving only to complement the principle ingredient. The best chefs in the world can imagine flavors of countless ingredients (meats, vegetables, fish, spices and herbs) cooked and prepared countless ways then imagine what they would taste like together. The dish itself must presented in an appetizing and creative way and, needless to say, the restaurant can't screw-up anything and most serve five to seven courses for a single meal. To all this must be mated a very good to exceptional wine cellar with a sommelier who knows the precise wine to recommend with each dish. The sommelier, as much as the chef or the maitre d'hotel, can make or break that precious three-star Michelin rating. At the best restaurants you could easily walk out with a US$300-$500 bill for two people including drinks (can be much less without wine if you're careful). Some of the most famous restaurants in the world (Lucas-Carton, Laserre, Maxim's, Taillevent) are or have been Michelin three-star establishments. And just because you have three stars one year doesn't mean you'll keep them the next.

    If you think I'm exaggerating check out a copy of the Larousse Gastronomique sometime. This weighty tome, about the size of an unabridged Funk and Wagnell's covers just about everything there is to know about French food with a few nods to other world cuisines deemed important. It's literally an encyclopedia of food.

    Michelin does not reach to the US. As befits the democratic bent of America, Zagat is now the publication of choice though some cities such as New York or San Francisco have some very influential critics who write for city-wide publications and they use their own systems for ratings. Zagat instead uses ratings from readers to form composite ratings using a scale from 1-30 based on four criteria: food, service, setting, and cost. The Zagat system is favorable for many people because it's not limited to just a few reviewers making pronouncements, but many people. Anyone can review a restaurant at Zagat. To be listed a restaurant must have a certain number of reviews before there's enough critical mass to ascertain an accurate rating. It's interesting that most Zagat reviews mirror what the published critics agree with. Rarely do the critics and the masses differ. To be fair, restaurant goers in most of the major cities in the US (and most particularly New York where people dine out more than anywhere else) are very critical and know good food and service when they experience it so the lack of discrepency shouldn't cause raised eyebrows.

    Opposing the Zagat system, which serves major world cities, is the Mobil guide which does use a 0-5 star rating system. Like Michelin, people bought their maps for road trips and Mobil added reviews of hotels and restaurants as an added feature of their road guides. To be frank, most people in the areas Zagat serves wouldn't be caught dead using a Mobil guide. Mobil guides are seen as more for "inexperienced" (read: indiscriminate) tastes though useful when an urbanite is caught in the sticks needing a decent restaurant or hotel.

    I have been lucky enough to dine at a few 5-star/3-star/high 20s restaurants in New York and France. Not being Croesus it's not a regular habit but unlike most of the socialites who don't eat anything but go to because it's expected of them and the power brokers more interested in deals and clients than what's on the plate, I've paid very careful attention to everything and enjoyed the experiences. Some were so impressive I can even remember what I had 10 years ago. Then again, I first had caviar when I was 12 and unlike all my other cousins who couldn't stand it, I asked for more.

    But don't let the pretense of a star system get in the way of a good meal. Some restaurants can do unexpected things and I know plenty of grandmothers who can out-do some of the most vaunted establishments depending on the dish. Haute cuisine is where you find it and don't let anyone tell you that a restaurant isn't worth anything because it lacks a rating or some reviewer hated it. Use reviews as guidelines and remember: it's just a meal.
     
  4. dave_brogli

    dave_brogli Screenwriter

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    wow, i spent my life thinking AAA began the [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] ratings (for travellers who needed a good restraunt)
     
  5. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Jason:

    Thanks for the corrections and amplification. I was relying on my (very spotty) memory of dealing with guide books many years ago when working part time at a bookstore. I'm glad you were able to set Matt (and me) straight.

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  6. MattBu

    MattBu Stunt Coordinator

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    Yes, Jason thanks for the effort you put into your post [​IMG] and all along I had thought there was some governing body [​IMG]
     

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