As a small city-state among its larger neighbours with longer culinary histories, it may be surprising that Singapore has more Michelin listings than any other Southeast Asian nation. The pinnacle of gastronomy, a Michelin star represents the ultimate recognition in the world of fine dining, coveted by chefs and restaurants worldwide.
According to Michelin’s online magazine, one Michelin Star is awarded to restaurants for “high-quality cooking that is worth a stop,” two Michelin Stars for “excellent cooking that is worth a detour,” and three Michelin Stars for “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey.”
Since the launch of the Michelin Guide Singapore in 2016, the city-state has gained significant recognition for its vibrant food scene, resulting in numerous restaurants being awarded Michelin stars. In 2022, Singapore had a total of 52 restaurants with that elusive star, fondly referred to by the French as “macarons” for the little rosettes that appear in the book.
On June 27 this year, Michelin just announced three more additions to its list, bringing the total tally to 55, including three restaurants which retained their 3 stars. No other Southeast Asian nation comes close – Thailand has 35 Michelin-starred establishments, while Vietnam boasts four, based on their newly launched guide.
While France and Japan have the highest number of restaurants with three Michelin stars – there are only 139 in the world currently – Singapore has three! So how does this tiny city state manage to achieve this feat, considering its relatively young culinary history and geographical size?
The Michelin method
Earning a Michelin star for a restaurant is the result of a meticulous evaluation process conducted solely by anonymous Michelin inspectors. These inspectors visit restaurants incognito to assess various factors such as the quality of ingredients, culinary technique, creativity, consistency, and value for money.
As a result, the Michelin Guide has earned a strong reputation among industry professionals as a highly influential source in the realm of gastronomy. However, the guide wasn’t initially created to be an authority in the culinary world.
The first Michelin Red Guide was published in 1900 by the Michelin tyre company in France as a practical travel guide – with maps and car maintenance tips – for motorists. By offering recommendations for accommodations and dining along popular driving routes, the Michelin Guide’s original aim was to promote automobile tourism and encourage people to drive longer distances, ultimately leading to increased tyre sales for Michelin. Therefore, the creation of the guidebook can be seen as a strategic utilisation of hospitality as a powerful marketing tool.
By delivering exceptional experiences through their recommendations, Michelin can evoke positive emotions that not only strengthen customer loyalty but also increase the likelihood of customers becoming brand advocates. This is just one example of why hospitality skills and knowledge are essential to any business.
Today, the Michelin Guide has become a trusted source for diners seeking exceptional dining experiences. By monetising this expertise and providing valuable marketing opportunities, the Michelin Guide has built a sustainable revenue model that benefits both the guide itself and the establishments it features. In short, hospitality is good business.
How did Singapore get a Michelin Guide?
Since its inception, the Guide has had a strong presence throughout Europe, and it wasn’t until 2007 that it ventured outside the continent to Japan. The success of Michelin Guide Tokyo paved the way for further international expansions of Michelin guides to various cities around the world, including Hong Kong and Macau in 2008, and Singapore in 2016. The Michelin Guide’s decision to establish a presence in Singapore was influenced by several factors.
Firstly, the fact that Singapore has a vibrant and diverse culinary scene – influenced by various cultures including Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan – definitely fulfils Michelin’s main criteria. Singapore’s diverse hawker culture is even inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
While “cheap and cheerful” hawker food has been a hallmark of dining out in Singapore, one can’t discount the fact that Singapore has been experiencing a luxury boom for a while now. Although a small nation, it’s the fourth largest financial centre globally, trailing only London, New York, and Hong Kong. In such affluent nations, the culinary landscape emphasises on lavish dining experiences that focus on impeccable hospitality. These fine dining restaurants are also at the forefront of creating value and status through innovation.
It’s this culinary landscape that draws in high profile chefs – from Gordon Ramsay to Wolfgang Puck – to Singapore, elevating our fine dining experience. Singapore also regularly hosts food-focused events, like “Singapore Food Festival” and “World Gourmet Summit,” attracting even more international travellers and food enthusiasts. Therefore, the presence of Michelin-starred restaurants contributes to Singapore’s reputation as a gastronomic hotspot.
This then attracts high-spending clientele who support luxury hotels and buy luxury products, which help drive development, directly employing tens of thousands of workers. The skills needed in the hospitality industry can be applicable to dozens of other tangidental industries, like travel and luxury retail to investment banking and public relations.
Hospitality isn’t just a prerequisite for establishments like hotels and restaurants. Even commercial developers know that opening up hospitality-oriented establishments is a way to bring foot traffic back to malls and offices. Positive experiences and word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied guests can lead to increased brand awareness, customer retention, and positive reviews for everything from private banking to tourism. This means that graduates from renowned hospitality schools like EHL Hospitality Business School (Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne) have the opportunity to work in a wide range of industries all over the globe.
A symbiotic approach to hospitality
The rise of a city’s culinary reputation doesn’t occur spontaneously; it requires a push. Even if Singapore boasts a plethora of exceptional restaurants, their reputation may remain unknown to the wider world unless people actually visit the city. This is where a proactive tourism board becomes valuable.
Singapore Tourism Board (STB) facilitated business connections between Michelin HQ and prospective partners in Singapore. While Singapore has already cemented itself as a tourism hotspot in the region, the presence of Michelin only elevates its world-class hospitality. As they say, the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach.
Michelin star restaurants distinguish themselves by creating memorable moments, exceeding expectations, and leaving a lasting impression on guests. For example at Saint Pierre in Singapore, Michelin-starred chef Emmanuel Stroobant conducts kitchen tours for diners who are keen to see how he and his team of chefs work.
But running a Michelin-starred restaurant isn’t just about providing great service. It also requires effective business management, including financial acumen, strategic planning, efficient operations, and maintaining a strong reputation within the industry. “The Michelin stars keep us on our toes,” Stroobant explains. “It’s a lot of pressure, but it is our duty to make sure that whatever we deliver is of a high standard of quality.”
This is why at EHL, which has a campus in Singapore, ensures that hospitality graduates always stay relevant to the industry by emphasising experiential learning. EHL’s two 6-month internships, real-world case studies, and a business incubator provides would-be entrepreneurs with the right skills to tackle the ever-changing needs of the industry.
A customer-centric skillset is essential for business success
According to an article in FT, consumers around the world have stockpiled an extra US$5.4 trillion of savings since the pandemic began, which translates to a significant pent-up demand for hospitality-based experiences like travelling, shopping, and fine dining.
So, there’s no better time to enter a high-flying career that focuses on customer experiences, whether it’s at a Michelin-starred restaurant, a luxury brand, a private bank or a world-class event like F1. Hospitality management is more than just satisfying customers: it gives you the edge when it comes to understanding how businesses work around human needs, in whatever industry you go into. In fact, more than 50% of EHL’s graduates flourish in jobs outside of hospitality.
Begin exploring your options at EHL – it’s the oldest hospitality management school in the world, with over 125 years of history! Based in Switzerland, it’s consistently ranked the #1 hospitality management university from 2019-2023, according to QS World University Rankings worldwide. EHL is a business school that nurtures hospitality competencies, where students cultivate soft skills through engaging in simulation exercises, foster a strategic mindset through junior consulting positions, and apply management techniques in their extracurricular activities.
EHL’s BSc in International Hospitality Management course takes place in Switzerland, which is home to Berceau des Sens, a Michelin-starred teaching restaurant where students can learn what it takes to run such an establishment. Students can also opt to do their mobility semester (Year 3) in Singapore, which also offers the option to specialise in ‘Innovation Management & Sustainable Growth Strategies’ (Year 4), giving them an in-depth exposure to the Asian business landscape.
Their campus in Switzerland offers access to a world-class business education with applications in hospitality-related case studies, while the option in Singapore provides a dynamic business environment and exposure to a diverse global marketplace.
No matter what your career aspirations are, exposure to places where Michelin guides flourish is a signal of prestige, global exposure, networking opportunities, and a commitment to excellence, which can lead to enhanced professional reputation and exciting career prospects.