The stars for Chicago, D.C., and New York would typically be announced over the next two months.

By Mike Pomranz
September 10, 2020
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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, enjoying any restaurant meal—let alone a Michelin-starred meal—has been a daunting task. Michelin has been tracking the number of its starred eateries that have been open at any given time, and during late April, only 13 percent were operating globally. As of last week, that number was back up to 83 percent, but in the United States, the situation is far more dire: Only 27 Michelin-starred restaurants are open here, just 13 percent of starred establishments across the country.

Credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / Staff/Getty Images

Part of the issue is that unlike in some other countries where stars are handed out nationwide, in the U.S., the guides only cover specific regions—namely California, Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C.—and those areas have had some of America’s stricter lockdowns. But the issue for Michelin has become how do you rate restaurants that aren’t even open? The answer is that you don’t until the time is right.

In a statement sent yesterday, a Michelin spokesperson has confirmed that the announcement of all four 2021 Michelin Guides for the United States “will be delayed.” As for when those announcements will arrive, the answer was purposefully left unclear, explaining only that “official timing will be announced as the pandemic recovery takes shape.”

“Since the beginning of the global pandemic, inspectors in each region have been in close contact with restaurants to understand and support the unprecedented challenges from the widespread impact of COVID-19,” the spokesperson told me via email. “The inspection team is sensitive to the situation in each restaurant and is gradually returning to visits when it seems appropriate based on the individual establishment and their circumstances. Our inspection team is fully committed to support and promote restaurants by being flexible, respectful and realistic as recovery takes shape.”

Along those lines, last month, reports emerged that, yes, inspectors were going back to work in some areas. Eater wrote that inspectors were back in NYC, and The Washingtonian confirmed that inspections were happening again in D.C., too.

However, the idea of “support” goes beyond making sure restaurants get their stars. Michelin explains that they piloted a regional CSA program to benefit food charities and donated over 800,000 face masks. They’ve also been working to digitally promote the Michelin-recognized restaurants that are open online. “Many chefs and restaurants have shifted to new offerings with outdoor dining and takeout,” the spokesperson added. “As a result, Michelin has stayed in close contact with chefs to highlight and feature restaurants with takeout options. The Michelin Guide website recently introduced a new tool to feature restaurants that offer takeout with a filter option online.”

But back to the guides, word of this delay comes right as the announcements were due to start rolling out. For the 2020 guides, the Chicago stars were announced in late September of 2019, the D.C. list arrived on the first of October, and the New York news came a few weeks after that.

For California, things get a bit trickier. In 2019, for the first time, Michelin extended its Bay Area-focused guide to encompass the entire state. So whereas the 2019 San Francisco guide was announced in November of 2018, the new larger 2019 California guide’s results weren’t announced until June of 2019. (Usually, the announcement is for the next year’s guide.) So assuming the next announcement would take place a year later, we were likely already due an announcement of the 2020 California stars.

But further confusing the issue is that, last month, a Michelin spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle that inspectors had already completed their work for this still-unreleased 2020 guide. So, in theory, a 2020 announcement may still be made and a 2020 guide may still be released. And yet, with so much having changed since the past half year—and with the 2021 California Guide now being delayed according to the statement we have received—releasing a 2020 guide would seem a bit unnecessary… except for the important fact that if chefs were set to earn stars, they should probably receive the credit they deserve. Clearly, Michelin is dealing with a delicate situation in the Golden State.

Still, Michelin understands that none of this is easy. “Restaurants are the heartbeat of our communities, and we look forward to recognizing their unwavering strength and talent at the appropriate time,” the Michelin spokesperson mentioned. Consider it a reminder that coronavirus refuses to work on our schedule; many aspects of life have become a waiting game whether we like it or not.