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The fraudulent use of the Michelin logo and its ratings

I have written so many articles about Michelin stars and how the good name of Michelin is misused in India that it annoys me to have to repeat some of the points I have made so often before.

If you have missed them, the most recent reiteration was in an interview with Gwendal Poullennec, who runs the food rating and wine part of the Michelin empire which you can find here:


Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi: Michelin has changed


   So, imagine my surprise when I found another blatant and possibly fraudulent use of the Michelin logo and its ratings in Delhi. I posted about it when it happened on Instagram so you may already know the story.


   But here, in essence, is what happened: There is a restaurant in Delhi that has often messaged me to come and try its cuisine, focusing special attention on the truffles it imports in season. It sounded interesting and I made up my mind to try it.


   My wife was going out for lunch some months ago with a friend and I suggested that she should give it a try. She went but both she and her friend thought it was too cramped and noisy, so they left and went somewhere else.


   Fair enough, I thought, I shall just go myself. I rarely go to a restaurant without booking a table (usually in a name that is not my own) so I called to make a reservation at lunch a few weeks after my wife had walked out. We don’t take reservations, I was told. Well, fair enough again.


   Then, on Saturday, feeling that I had failed in my duty to check out a restaurant that may have been good enough to make it to the Culinary Culture lists I help compile, I decided to try again. I messaged the restaurant on Instagram, responding to the many message it had sent. But perhaps they don’t check their messages on Insta regularly because I received no response.


   So, I phoned them. Could I book a table? No, said a voice on the phone, it is “first come, first service.”


   Though I don’t necessarily like turning up at a restaurant as a walk-in, I thought I would drag my reluctant wife along and stop by anyway. If they were full, then there were plenty of other places I had to check out. I located the restaurant but before I could even enter it, a manager who had clearly been scanning the street rushed out to greet me. He recognised me, he said, and it would take 45 minutes for a table.


   Another manager also rushed out on to the street. He had worked at Diva, he said, and so he knew me. “Just give me your number”, he said. “I will phone you the moment a table becomes vacant.”


   They were both so kind and sweet that even though my heart sometimes sinks when I am recognised even before I have entered a restaurant (no chance that I am going to get the normal guest experience now, is there?), I was grateful for their solicitousness.


   It was as I was thanking them that my wife noticed a plaque outside the restaurant next to the sign that carried its name. It was a replica of the kind of plaque that Michelin gives restaurants when they get stars or a Bib Gourmand award (given usually to a good but inexpensive restaurant.) This one looked like an imitation of the Bib Gourmand plaque.


"Was there some Michelin connection that made the restaurant’s owners feel able to perpetrate what, anywhere in the West, may have been considered an act of fraud?"

   I asked the friendly manager how Michelin could have given the restaurant such a plaque given that there is no Michelin guide to India and, therefore, there are no stars or Bib Gourmand restaurants? The plaque gave the impression that the restaurant had been awarded some distinction by Michelin. So, had there been some secret ceremony that nobody knew about?


   “Heh, heh”, laughed one of the managers, a little awkwardly. “It says Michelin 2025”. Yes, I said. They were claiming to have won an award that did not exist anywhere in the world. Michelin is still in the process of recognising restaurants around the world for its 2024 awards.


   By now, the manager was clearly more than just awkward. He sounded defensive. “It is just a manifestation,” he said.


   A manifestation? What did that mean?


   He seemed to have no idea and I had the distinct sense that he had been instructed to use the word “manifestation” without being told what was being manifested and how.


   There was nothing more to be said. I took a picture of the bogus Michelin plaque, complete with Michelin’s trademarked Bibendum symbol and headed to my car. “Give me your number, sir”, the manager called after me “we will get you a table whenever you want it.”


   This was kind of him. But by now, I had no desire to be part of some bogus Michelin scam so I drove away.


   I put the picture on Instagram (in a story) and was deluged with DMs, mostly from people in the food or restaurant business who were astonished by this brazen display of chutzpah.


   Even now, I had a nagging doubt. Was there some Michelin connection that made the restaurant’s owners feel able to perpetrate what, anywhere in the West, may have been considered an act of fraud? They were misappropriating the Michelin logo and symbol (which Michelin guards with ferocity) as well as fooling their customers who don’t really understand how Michelin works and may have been taken in by this purported connection to the famous restaurant rating system?


   So, I scoured the internet and looked for references to the restaurant in question. My Google search did not throw up any serious reviews just the usual influencer fluff stuff which is usually paid for by the restaurant. But even here, I found references to Michelin. Apparently the menu had been created by ‘Michelin starred chefs’ and the food included ‘Michelin star dishes.” Obviously, whoever runs this place is a little obsessed with Michelin.


   Later, I asked my friends and acquaintances why any restaurant would invent its own bogus Michelin plaque and put it up. Wouldn’t everyone realise that this was nonsense?


   No, said my friends. They were convinced that many people who go to this sort of restaurant (the food is described as being Italian) have heard of Michelin as a mark of quality but don’t know much about the mechanics of the star system or the Bib Gourmand list. So the plaque would successfully fool people into believing that the restaurant had been recognised by Michelin.


   I don’t know if that is true. But if it is, then yes, I can see why people would regard it as a possible fraud on the guests.


   Judging by my early conversations with the restaurant and the level of sophistication that was displayed in the discussions (on DM in Instagram) about various kinds of truffles, it is likely that whoever put up the plaque knew enough about the Michelin system to know that what they were doing was wrong.


   But they went ahead anyway.


   Though I tagged the restaurant on Instagram I have not named it in this column because I would like to think they must have recognised that they have been found out and that the jig is up. No further purpose is served by naming and shaming them. My job as a columnist is to act in the interests of the guest and I think I have done that.


   Besides, they are just one example of a system of recognition that has gone off the rails with awards you can buy and online publications that will carry what you pay them to.


   But even by those standards, what these guys have done takes my breath away.



Posted On: 12 Mar 2024 10:30 AM
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