The Curse of the Michelin Star

February 24, 2020

Bistro Na’s, a Chinese restaurant serving imperial court food from the Qing Dynasty and headed by a Beijing-based restaurant group, received a one Michelin Star rating on June 3, 2019. I analyzed 261 Yelp reviews from 5 months prior to June 3, 2019–starting on January 1, 2019–and 5 months post Michelin Star announcement–stopping at the end of October 2019, to ascertain whether the Michelin Star drew more out-of-towners and impacted how people perceived the restaurant and dining experience.

The Michelin stars convey a sense of distance patrons are willing to travel to dine at the restaurant. To put a one star rating in context: one star means “A good place to stop on your journey, indicating a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard;” two stars means “A restaurant worth a detour, indicating excellent cuisine and skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality;” three stars means “A restaurant worth a special journey, indicating exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly.”

Each Yelp review publishes the city and state the reviewer is from and I mapped each city and state to Bistro Na’s address in Temple City, California. I then checked to see if there was a difference in the average distance traveled by restaurant-goers pre-Michelin Star and post-Michelin Star. The answer is that there is no statistically significant difference in average distance traveled between pre- and post-Michelin star. In the pre-period, the average distance traveled was 128 miles and in the post-period, the average distance traveled was 150 miles. Note that there are a few patrons who are from the East Coast, which easily registers over 2,000 miles. This is why the averages are so high. However, a t-test reveals that the difference in the average distances traveled to eat at Bistro Na’s between pre- and post-Michelin star are not statistically significant, or is highly likely to be due to chance.

Most of the customers of Bistro Na’s are local. To dig into the numbers a little more, the median, or 50th percentile, is 12.9 miles. This means that 50% of the patrons travel 12.9 miles or less to dine at Bistro Na’s. To put this in context, the people who are coming from Los Angeles are about 12.9 miles away according to Google Maps. The 75th percentile is 33 miles. This means that 75% of customers travel 33 miles or less. To put this in context, Disneyland in Anaheim, CA is about 33 miles away from Bistro Na’s.

The reason why a Michelin star could be a curse is because, in the post-period, those Yelp reviewers who mention “Michelin star” in their review consistently award the restaurant with fewer Yelp stars. Yelp lets patrons award the restaurants they review with 1 to 5 stars. On average, those who mention “Michelin star” in their review in the post-period awarded Bistro Na’s with half a star lower than those who do not mention “Michelin star.” The average Yelp stars given by reviewers who do not mention “Michelin star” is 4.27 stars. The average Yelp stars given by reviewers who do mention “Michelin star,” is 3.73 stars. The difference between these averages is very statistically significant, which means the difference is unlikely to be due to chance.

Why do reviews that mention “Michelin star” award Bistro Na’s with fewer Yelp stars? One reviewer said, “I normally wouldn’t complain about this in a Chinese restaurant, but I guess Michelin one star sets some unrealistic expectations.” Others echoed that the Michelin star elevated their expectations: “I wouldn’t normally be this critical if this wasn’t a Michelin rated restaurant. With that “star” comes holistic expectations that starts from the moment we walk in that door and not just based on the tastiness of the food.” Finally, many reviewers wondered aloud if Bistro Na’s was really worthy of a Michelin one star. One reviewer said, “I am still scratching my head about that one Michelin star.” Another said, “I’m not sure this place is the best and most deserving of a Michelin star.”

In terms of food, 15% of reviewers said that the food they had at Bistro Na’s was just okay, mediocre, or hit and miss. Pre- and post-Michelin star, the percentage of reviewers who thought the food was just okay was roughly equivalent. There was no statistically significant difference in food criticism between pre- and post-Michelin star. One person said, “Food wise it’s just okay, not great and nothing wowed me.” Another said, “I feel like the food we ordered was a bit of a mixed bag. Nothing was bad, but some were definitely a bit plain.”

In terms of atmosphere and environment, only 2.7% commented that the restaurant was too noisy, crowded, or uncomfortable. Pre- and post-Michelin star, the percentage of reviewers who thought the environment was uncomfortable was roughly the same. There was no statistically significant difference. One person said, “The interior, while very pretty in the cliche Chinese way, was also very, very uncomfortable to actually sit in.” Another reviewer gave this piece of advice, “Make reservations for a table that’s not in the center area which can become very noisy.”

In terms of service, 12% of reviewers complained of bad service–with many complaints about the wait for a table. As with food and atmosphere, the percentage of reviewers who complained of bad service was the same pre- and post-Michelin star. Again, there was no statistically significant difference. One complaint about the wait was from a woman who said, “Nobody communicated and they skipped my reservation and gave other people tables first.” Another complaint was, “We’ve been waiting for 2 hours, 2 hours!!!!! Finally we found the reason, horrible service!!! Won’t come again!!!” Another man said, “One downside was they made us wait 30 mins past our reservation even though our entire party showed up early.”

This post focuses on the criticisms Bistro Na’s reviewers conveyed, but plenty had a stellar experience. It is noteworthy that those who cited the “Michelin star” in their review rated the restaurant with an average of 3.73 stars. One proposed explanation is that the Michelin star elevated expectations and diners had a more critical eye. Finally, Bistro Na’s is still very much a local phenomenon with 75% of diners coming from around the greater Los Angeles area.

Source: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/first-statewide-michelin-guide-includes-90-california-restaurants-with-stars-300861195.html, https://www.tripsavvy.com/about-michelin-stars-1329159, https://www.yelp.com/biz/bistro-nas-temple-city-10?start=280&sort_by=date_desc

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