It’s that time of the year again… Hospitality industry members are all over social media speculating as to which are the latest restaurants to climb up a list, get a rosette, or bag an elusive star.
Everybody gets a bit giddy (and rightfully so), as the impact of featuring in the Good Food Guide or being bestowed with an accolade from a car company can make a huge difference to business levels, team moral, and a restaurant or chef’s public profile.
But with the increase in restaurants going for a more stripped back, casual approach to their food, service, and setting, do the traditional accolades awarded by AA and Michelin (amongst others) really indicate the créme de la créme of British gastronomy in 2017?
With the abundance of Instagram/Twitter-dwelling food bloggers constantly dissecting every aspect of all the exciting new restaurant openings in our major cities (and everywhere in between), any restaurant service can turn into an inspection.
Whether or not you agree with the ethics of social media ‘influencers’, their detailed insight does give diners an up-to-date look at what a restaurant/chef is doing. It shows a more personal view, compared to that of an AA of Michelin guidebook, and their impact can be far more immediate.
But that detailed view isn’t always what diners are looking for; AA rosettes and Michelin stars provide an easy point of comparison, and if a restaurant features on a respected list such as The Good Food Guide’s Top 50 or the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best, then you’re probably going to be in safe hands.
A big problem people have with bloggers and food PR reps is that they don’t always exercise total impartiality (I wish my stylised reviews on Instagram would be accepted as legal tender in restaurants…) The likes of AA and Michelin, for example, have spent years building up their reputations as authorities on gastronomy; the history attached to the Michelin Guide is unparalleled.
But are these mainstream guides and lists potentially as blinkered as the serial #foodporn flashers of Instagram? There is an almost cult like following of the Michelin standard; a homogenised style and atmosphere they want to instil in Britain’s dining rooms. To get into the guide, you have to conform.
Both chefs and diners alike are increasingly rejecting this approach and focusing on the things that really matter - not the ironed tablecloths, spherified olives, and waiters re-laying your napkin on your lap with a pair of silver spoons. Rather a focus on incredible flavour and produce, relaxed and vibrant dining spaces, and value for money.
At the end of the day, every individual diner wants a slightly different balance of all the great things that a hospitality experience can offer. Looking at guides, blogs, Instagram and Twitter might point people in the right direction, but if the experience on the night isn’t consistent with a diner’s expectations, you’re doomed. If chefs and restaurants focus on nailing the quality and consistency of their product/service, then the accolades, the Likes and the Shares will follow - but more importantly, so will the customers.
Of course, I think we can all agree that having Michelin stars and AA rosettes are generally positive - but it’s all for nothing if you haven’t received the greatest hospitality honour of them all: the coveted TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence: a true measure of quality… (when is their awards dinner?!)
Which guide/list/food blogger do YOU trust the most when it comes to deciding where you’re going spend your hard earn cash? Let us know in the comments!