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How a tyre company started giving out the world’s most prestigious restaurant awards

How a tyre company started giving out the world’s most prestigious restaurant awards

Everyone knows Michelin Tyres - the company with the jolly man made of tyres as its mascot. You’ve also most likely heard of Michelin stars – stars awarded to high-quality restaurants around the globe. But did you know they’re both the same company? This is how a tyre company started giving out the world’s most prestigious restaurant awards. 

Back in the 1880s in France, when there were very few cars on the roads, brothers Andre and Edourard Michelin needed a way to increase their tyre sales. To get drivers out on the streets and using more tyres they had the bright idea to create a guidebook. 

The guide initially focused on essential travel information like maps, instructions on how to change tyres, and places to refuel. At first the guides were given out for free in the hopes this would encourage more drivers to use them, until one of the brothers entered a workshop to see a stack of their guides being used to prop up a workbench. 

Under the assumption that nobody cared about the books because they hadn’t spent their hard-earned money on them, the brothers reworked their guide and began selling them for seven francs each (92p in today’s money). 

Included in this new version was a list of hotels and restaurants. They also removed any paid advertising. Noticing how much influence the guide had on diners’ choice of restaurants the brothers started to send ‘mystery diners’ to write reviews.  

In 1926 their famous star system was introduced. Initially, only one star was used, but five years later they began a one, two and three-star rating system, where one star was worth a stop, two stars were worth a detour and three stars were worth a special journey. 

Today the star system is still in use and has become a symbol of a great quality restaurant and top-notch dining across the globe. 

Michelin Man 

The Michelin brother’s famous guidebook wasn’t their only stroke of marketing genius. Around the same time as the guide was introduced, the brothers began to use a mascot. 

Almost exclusively known as the ‘Michelin Man’ this mascot made entirely of tyres’ real name is Bibendum. The name comes from ‘Nunc est Bibendum’ which is Latin for ‘it’s time to drink’, as early adverts showed the character drinking a glass of nails to show how strong Michelin’s tyres were.

Other early adverts depicted Bibendum as a womanizing, cigar-smoking, beer drinker. But luckily, he soon cleared up his act and in the 1920s he was often shown participating in sports like cycling and running or helping families change their tyres. 

It’s safe to say the tyre-shaped mascot has been a work-in-progress for the company, which has now become a refined and instantly recognisable character for everyone. Just make sure you don’t type ‘vintage Michelin man’ into Google or you’ll be in for a bit of a fright! 

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