Michelin Guide Validates Atlanta’s Culinary Scene, Georgia Tech Experts Say

Friday, September 15th, 2023

Joining the ranks of the top culinary scenes around the world, Atlanta will become the ninth U.S. destination to receive an evaluation from the anonymous Michelin Guide inspectors before the launch of the city guide this fall with the assistance of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.  

Ask any Georgia Tech student what makes up a star, and they'll likely be able to tell you that it is comprised primarily of hydrogen and helium. Michelin stars, however, are made up of top-quality ingredients, mastery of cooking techniques, consistency, and personality. Worldwide, less than 3,500 restaurants have received at least one Michelin star, and just 13 U.S. restaurants have earned a three-star rating from the Michelin Guide –– the highest possible honor. A green star is the latest addition to the guide, awarded to restaurants deemed to be leaders in sustainable gastronomy.  

"I think it fits in with Atlanta's recent globalization," Alex Oettl, a professor of strategy and innovation at the Scheller College of Business, said. "It's becoming more of an international city. We're home to numerous Fortune 500 companies, but the guide is a recognition that Atlanta is a destination for food as well. Atlanta is already a transport hub with the world's busiest airport, but if people realize the quality of the food scene here, I think it could help more people stay in Atlanta and spend a night instead of just connecting through."

While there is no guarantee that the guide inspectors will award a star to any metro Atlanta restaurant, it does stand to invite more diners to explore the diverse options around the city. The Visitor’s Bureau brought the guide to Atlanta for $1 million, which Oettl believes will prove to be a worthy investment that will keep travelers in the city.  

The guide was first published by the tire conglomerate in France in 1920 as a tool to attract motorists in search of a good meal. It has since become one of the most renowned publications in the restaurant industry, spanning 30 territories and three continents and garnering consumer trust worldwide.  

Koushyar Rajavi is an assistant professor in Scheller College whose research highlights how consumers perceive brands and how brands build trust. For the Michelin Guide, he believes it's in the formula.  

"The process is designed to ensure these inspectors are not influenced by anything other than the quality of the food or the experience they have in these restaurants. Once you have a rigorous process in which other elements and incentives are not polluting it, that leads to reliable outcomes. Over time, people see that these outcomes and these stars are reliable recommendations. That leads to a positive feedback loop for the reputation and trust that people have,” he said.  

Rajavi further explained that the brand's system helps legitimize its evaluations as opposed to Google or Yelp reviews, which can be more easily manipulated.  

"I personally don't have the palate to distinguish between 'good' and 'very good.’ When I look at consumer ratings, people sharing that they’ve had a good experience may not provide the full picture. So, for regular restaurants, I would trust others' opinions, but when it comes to the absolute best in the world, you need more than regular consumers to give that assessment," he explained. 

Because of the high-level evaluation, the guide is often criticized for limiting stars to fine-dining establishments and favoring Eurocentric cuisines. In its announcement, Atlanta was hailed by Michelin as a "culturally diverse city," a trait that Oettl hopes to see reflected in the upcoming guide.  

"One of the best parts about our dining scene is the ethnic diversity that exists. Anyone who's ever been to Buford Highway can attest to that, and I hope the Michelin Guide doesn't overlook those cuisines because I do think those are some of the biggest gems in the culinary landscape of Atlanta," he said.  

While the guide's launch signifies a step forward for the city's culinary scene, it can come with the risk of driving costs up and value down. And restaurants that do earn a Michelin star will bear the weight of elevated expectations. Rajavi warns that if they are not prepared, or fail to maintain the standard set, they risk not only losing stars but alienating their consumer base and losing their trust. 

Like actors chasing Oscars by landing the perfect role, Oettl believes that the guide's arrival could continue attracting top culinary talent to Atlanta while also providing an additional amenity for the city as it competes with growing metro areas like Nashville and Charlotte.  

"The more amenities that exist within a city, the more attractive it becomes. I think the Michelin Guide will certainly help in reducing uncertainty as to the quality of the dining scene here from an outside perspective. I think most Atlantans know that food here is quite good, but this now gives an outside validation," Oettl said.  

An exact launch date for the guide has not yet been announced.