Are Stars Worth It?

August 24, 2019

Imagine that you own a lemonade stand. People love your lemonade because it’s the perfect combination of sweet, tart, and refreshing. Plus, you add interesting twists like strawberries, watermelon, and other fruits. One day, a lemonade critic stops by and awards your lemonade stand a star. This critic says that in order to keep the star, critics will come by throughout the year to make sure your lemonade is still worthy of the star. Wow, you think to yourself, this critic loved my lemonade that much? Sweet! When the neighborhood learns of your star-rated lemonade, more and more people come to visit your lemonade stand. In fact, so many come to visit, it seems as if you’re making lemonade morning, noon, and night. You hardly ever see your friends anymore and have no time to do anything else besides make lemonade. What’s more is that you’re putting pressure on yourself to be even more creative with your flavors, because who knows when the critic will stop by. Now, hold that thought …

There’s a lovely little restaurant in Sweden called Fäviken Magasinet. It seats only twenty-four people, and the waitlist to dine there is … oh, just a short seven months long. We’d say that it’s a pretty popular restaurant, wouldn’t you? Sure! Fäviken is consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world and has two coveted Michelin stars. (Side note: For those of you who don’t know what a Michelin star is, it’s a ranking that restaurants may or may not receive depending on how good their food, service, and overall dining experience is. The greatest number of stars a restaurant can receive is three, and the Michelin guide, a book that lists all of the Michelin-rated restaurants in the world, has become a listing that restaurants strive to be a part of.) It’s a restaurant owner’s dream—a restaurant that has two Michelin stars, is full every night, and people are willing to wait months to have an opportunity to dine there—or is it?

It’s not a dream for Magnus Nilsson, chef and owner of Fäviken. In fact, having to constantly maintain the two Michelin star status of his restaurant has been stressful. After all, Michelin inspectors pay anonymous visits to rated restaurants, and year after year there is increased pressure to maintain the star status that was awarded the year before. As a result, Nilsson has decided to close down his restaurant. While closing a very successful restaurant may seem like a very bold move, Nilsson isn’t the first chef and owner to do so. Last year, French chef Sebastien Bras of Le Suquet asked that his three-Michelin-starred restaurant be taken out of the guide. Similar to Nilsson, he felt that the pressure of maintaining his restaurant’s star status and the scrutiny of the Michelin inspectors was too much for him and his kitchen. After all, they just wanted to cook good food for their patrons, not cater to the desires of Michelin inspectors. To his surprise, however, his restaurant was still included in last year’s guide, only with one less star.

When does an award become unrewarding?