Unprecedented Changes for Michelin Star Restaurants

Goodbye Gotham Bar & Grill, hello Noma burger bar. Worldwide, over 85% of Michelin-starred restaurants are currently closed. Some closures are permanent, such as New York City’s Gotham Bar & Grill. Others will temporarily and somewhat unbelievably morph into casual burger joints, like four-time world’s best restaurant, Noma in Copenhagen.

More headlines about closures and service downgrades arrive daily from Michelin Guide restaurants. Sushi Taro is closed “until further notice.” Despite attempts to earn goodwill from New York City officials, Michelin 3-starred Eleven Madison Park will likely never reopen. In Macau, Michelin-starred The Tasting Room as well as Shinji by Kanesaka have closed permanently. In Denmark, Noma has closed its interior, and The Alchemist has shuttered. In Amsterdam, &Moshik has closed despite holding two Michelin stars.

Michelin-starred chef David Chang closed Momofuku in Washington DC and bemoaned his decision, “As we looked at new realities, neither restaurant had enough cushion to sustain the shock of this crisis. We investigated every scenario to make the math work—negotiating with our landlords, changing the service model, and more—but with increased investments in health and safety, huge reopening expenses, and the lack of rent relief, the financial picture of these wholly-owned restaurants no longer made sense.”

High-end chefs have lost millions during the pandemic and remain worried about losing their star ratings. They have lobbied Via Michelin to postpone its annual rating beyond this October. “No,” says director Gwendal Poullennec, telling reporters at AFP today that chefs “have not lost their talent during the lockdowns” and that “they have been innovating and creating new recipes.”

Poullennec’s decision will be incredibly costly for chefs who must maintain operations at their star levels at all times in order to renew their rating. Michelin famously does not provide advance warning of its visitations, forcing staff to treat each guest as though they were serving a Michelin inspector.

For many chefs, ranking in this October’s Michelin Guide has moved far down their priority lists. Rent, payroll, and cash flow have become mission critical. Polls as of May 3 show that 78% of consumers remain uncomfortable dining out.

Same-store restaurant sales fell 55% last month versus April 2019. As of yesterday, domestic OpenTable reservations remain 93.66% lower than May 18, 2019, an “improvement” from the -99.99% trough on April 26, 2020.

Michelin competitor Gault & Millau will publish its regular 2021 guide but will postpone rankings for chefs, pastry chefs and sommeliers. Another Michelin competitor, 50 Best Restaurants, will not issue rankings at all during 2020. Director Helene Pietrini told AFP, “We decided to not announce a list this year even though the vote had taken place. This crisis has called our values into question… It would have been inappropriate. There are moments to celebrate the best restaurants and others when we have to pull up our sleeves to make sure that all these restaurants survive.”

More than 25% of restaurants could close permanently. Michelin-starred restaurateur JP McMahon agrees, saying 30% of restaurants will close forever. OpenTable also forecasts that at least one quarter of restaurants will not survive the COVID-19 aftermath.

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

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