How the Michelin brothers used fine dining to create a world famous guide, born out of a need to boost their tyre business

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How the Michelin brothers used fine dining to create a world famous guide, born out of a need to boost their tyre business

The Background

An idea so good it made Gordon Ramsay cry.

The Big Idea

In 1900, two brothers – the founders of a tyre company – launched the Michelin Guide. But what inspired the makers of four wheels (probably more than four to be fair) to enter the world of fine dining?

Having started the Michelin Tyre Company two decades previous, Édouard and André Michelin were looking for an idea that would increase sales. 

It’s not enough to tell people to replace their tyres. 

They needed to give drivers a need to replace their tyres. 

And the best way to do that is to encourage them to drive more, and further afield. 

What They Did

The company was based in France and at that time the country was seeing a boom in restaurants. 

In fact, the first-ever restaurant is considered to have been in Paris, so Wikipedia tells me.

The brothers decided that this was the perfect opportunity to get French drivers to hit the roads and explore the country’s best dining establishments. 

Enter the Michelin Guide. 

A series of guide books featuring the finest restaurants and hotels on offer, as well as useful motoring support from maps to mechanic listings. 

Nearly 35,000 free copies were distributed in the first run, leading eventually to bespoke guides across Europe, and now the world.

The Michelin brothers followed the success by eventually hiring inspectors and developing the now infamous rating system we’re all familiar with. 

* "A very good restaurant in its category" 

** "Excellent cooking, worth a detour" 

*** "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"

With the stars we now hear about making or breaking a restaurant, and seemingly its staff. 

Which brings us back to poor old Gordon, who was said to shed a tear or two (and no doubt plenty of f*cks) when he lost not one, but two, Michelin stars more than 100 years after the idea was conceived. 

The Review

This idea may not be award winning, but importantly it was effective.   

Not only was it simple; if people drive more, they’ll buy more tyres. But the execution signalled the quality that Michelin tyres wanted to be known for, borrowing the superior association from these fine dining restaurants.

For an idea that was conceived 120 years ago I’d say it’s lasted the test of time. The stars themselves may have become more famous than the actual tyres, but the Michelin brand is still dining out on its success.

In my experience, the more mundane the product you’re flogging, the bigger the opportunity for creativity. 

And anything that can bring Gordon Ramsay to tears is pretty darn good if you ask me.

That is why I give this more than three stars: it is an exceptional idea, worthy of a special mention – it holds a key place in our culture.

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Gemma Vardon

Gemma Vardon

  • Freelance creative director

Read Gemma Vardon's bio and content


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