Welcome to Ask Eater, a column from Eater where the site’s editor answers specific dining questions from readers and friends. Have a question for us? Submit your inquiry by emailing email@example.com.
Erika, I hear you’re new around here. Well, let me tell you: Boston’s dining scene is fantastic. Way better than it gets credit for from outsiders. Can you believe we don’t have a Michelin guide yet? What a rip-off. What’s going on? Why don’t Boston restaurants have Michelin stars?
Dear Seeing Stars,
I am new around here — and I agree, Boston’s restaurants are lowkey stacked with talent, and that often is overlooked in national narratives about the city’s dining scene. I’ve only been in this role for a few months and I’m already annoyed whenever someone says something rude and uninformed about the city’s restaurants; or when a regional best-of list comes out and New York City might as well represent the entire Northeastern U.S.
But, back to Michelin. Here’s the thing: The fact that Boston doesn’t have a Michelin guide is not necessarily because the inspectors haven’t deigned to dine around here. Tourism boards pay the tire company to launch the guide in their cities. California got a statewide guide starting a few years ago because Visit California paid Michelin $600,000 to expand their coverage zone outside of San Francisco. Florida got a statewide guide starting in 2022 because Visit Florida banded together with local tourism boards in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami and reportedly shelled out about $1.5 million to Michelin over a three-year period to make it happen, according to the Miami Herald.
So, to take your question a step further, will Boston’s tourism board, MeetBoston, pay to bring the Michelin guide to Boston? According to MeetBoston’s team, they won’t. In fact, MeetBoston’s vice president of communications Dave O’Donnell says that he talked to Michelin last year about bringing the guide to Boston, but once he realized it was a pay-to-play situation, as O’Donnell put it, he said they weren’t interested.
It’s not that MeetBoston isn’t interested in investing in promoting the city’s restaurants, they say — perhaps you’ve seen the MeetBoston-sponsored ad with chef and Food Network star Tiffani Faison pumping up Boston’s restaurants, or dabbled in Dine Out Boston, or perused the group’s online restaurant directory — but they’re not interested in paying a steep fee to Michelin for what may amount to showcasing a small sliver of Boston’s restaurants.
I imagine there are others like yourself who would love to see the city get its own guide — in March, Time Out Boston went as far as publishing a list of which restaurants it thought would be worthy of a Michelin star if the guide existed here — but the hefty cost and its seeming favoritism toward high-end, Eurocentric and Japanese restaurants leave it looking like a bad bet, according to the MeetBoston team. “Making that kind of investment for what would likely be a smaller subset of our restaurant community probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us,” says CEO Martha Sheridan.
Michelin, for its part, confirmed that they had a preliminary conversation with the MeetBoston team about bringing the rankings to Boston, but there are no new North American guides to announce at this point, according to a spokesperson. The organization also denied that the guide only operates on a pay-to-play structure. “Not all Michelin Guide destinations have the involvement of destination marketing organizations,” the rep said in an email, but it is part of the process for some new guide launches. Here’s how the rep put it:
Michelin decides whether to have its anonymous inspectors conduct a destination assessment in a given area. The inspection team determines whether an area’s culinary scene is advanced enough to merit a Michelin Guide selection of restaurants. If there are enough restaurants offering high-quality cuisine, the process would begin for the Guide to be established in that area. That’s when a [destination marketing organization] might become involved to cover some costs to promote the new Guide selection.
This response may leave you with more questions than answers. And, to be sure, the city’s dining scene doesn’t need a Michelin guide to prove its worth. In any case, good thing there are other people around who are interested in chronicling the best restaurants Boston has to offer. If you’re looking for a great meal tonight, may I suggest starting here and here.