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Ivan Brehm of Nouri.

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Canapés by Labyrinth at a Lamborghini event.

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Emmanuel Stroobant of Saint Pierre.

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Beppe De Vito of the Il Lido Group.

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Bone marrow dish at Braci.

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Left: Sebastien Lepinoy of Les Amis. Right: Labyrinth's chef-owner Han Li Guang.

The Business Of Michelin

How the stars make an impact on restaurants’ bottom lines
Oct 11, 2019 5:50 AM

THE DUST HAS settled on the recent Michelin awards, and the excitement of adding a star or three to a restaurant's name has now given way to the real task at hand - maintaining this accolade and even tackling the next challenge of moving up the ranks.

But the glory of awards isn't limited to mere validation of a chef's and his team's hard work. Financial gain has always run in tandem with the stars, which is inherently the reason for getting one in the first place.

As the late Joel Robuchon famously put it: ''With one Michelin star, you get about 20 percent more business. Two stars, you do about 40 percent more business, and with three stars, you'll do about 100 percent more business. So from a business point ... you can see the influence of the Michelin guide.''

Apart from the phenomenal success of Hawker Chan, whose one Michelin-starred soya sauce chicken stall spawned a chain of international shops, Singapore's stars have clearly benefited in varying degrees. Not just in restaurant bookings but in the form of other businesses from events catering to restaurant consultancy or franchise offers.

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Recently, luxury supercar brand Lamborghini held an event in Gillman Barracks which served mod-Sin canapés prepared by the one-starred restaurant helmed by chef-owner Han Li Guang.

''More business opportunities have opened up for us since we got our star in 2017,'' says Chef Han. ''More luxury brands are coming to us, wanting to do collaborations, catering or promotional videos. Before the star there wasn't as much interest. It's crucial to have a star because we can command a better price.''

But Labyrinth is still a fine dining restaurant ''and we don't have a catering arm so we do such events on a case by case basis with brands that synergise with our own brand,'' he adds. He is also invited to do private cooking events overseas, where chefs are able to command fees according to the number of stars they have.

For chef-restaurateur Beppe De Vito of the Il Lido Group, the effects of a Michelin star were immediate.

''The very next day we doubled our bookings,'' he says of Braci, when it first got its star in 2017. ''It also brought us a lot more attention both locally and globally, allowing us to collaborate with more international chefs, culminating in top-notch four-hands collaborations and guest appearances.'' For example, he was just in Tokyo for a 'Cook Japan Project' for three days.

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

But with Braci being so small, it's hard to grow, says Mr De Vito. ''The high rate of cancellations doesn't help either when we have so few seats available.'' That's why he rebranded the much bigger Osteria Art on Market Street into the new concept ART, to build it into a Michelin-worthy restaurant.

''Unfortunately the whole building was bought over and the new landlord decided to completely refurbish it, so we had to move out.'' Instead, he's in the midst of reconfiguring his flagship Aura restaurant which takes up two floors at the National Gallery, including the rooftop Sky Lounge on the sixth floor. ''I've decided to move ART Restaurant to take over the space currently occupied by Aura restaurant on level 5 starting Oct 15.''

''Clients associate quality with Michelin,'' says Ivan Brehm of one-starred Nouri, of the requests that his restaurant gets for events catering. He's worked with several luxury brands to cater for cocktail parties and even cooking five course meals at an improvised kitchen for a major watch company.

The stars definitely open doors to all kinds of opportunities and Chef Brehm has been approached ''to open restaurants in Guangzhou, Hawaii and Japan''. There are also offers for product placement, books and TV shows but he has declined most offers ''because we are very protective of our brand and are in this for the long haul''.

MARKET APPEAL

For Silvia Saliti, Head of Marketing & PR Asia Pacific, Automobil Lamborghini, ''Our philosophy has always been to choose the most exclusive experiences we can provide for our customers and this often coincides with having a Michelin star chef.'' While the brand has used Labyrinth's Chef Han in Singapore, it has also ''worked with Umberto Bombana in Hong Kong and Antimo Maria Merone in Macau,'' adds Ms Saliti.

At this year's Formula 1, Michelin stars were also aplenty at the many dining setups at the race, including Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck and local stars such as Candlenut's Malcolm Lee and Saint Pierre's Emmanuel Stroobant. ''The night race presents a great opportunity to showcase some of the best in the local culinary scene and to invite renowned international chefs to the event,'' says Siva Kanthan, Singapore GP's Director of Food and Beverage. ''We don't just look at award-winning chefs, but also those that offer innovative, global cuisine that would appeal to both our local and foreign guests.''

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Getting stars is a great step forward but it doesn't always lead to pots of cash, especially given the high food and operating costs involved in maintaining the quality of Michelin-starred restaurants.

For Saint Pierre's Emmanuel Stroobant - which was promoted to two stars this year - enquiries exploded after the awards but it is still too early to gauge the results as the restaurant was closed during the F1 weekend and also for renovations immediately after. It re-opened this week with a 20 per cent increase in bookings.

But even from its first star, Chef Stroobant says, ''In general, there was an increase in enquiries across the board for catering, guest chef stints and business opportunities overseas. But the issue when you get a star is the need to maintain quality. Having a lot of enquiries doesn't necessarily translate into actual sales or business. We need to be mindful that what we offer reflects the Michelin status we've received.''

MICHELIN SUCCESS

Newly-minted three star chef Sebastien Lepinoy sums it up: ''With one star, local or Singapore-based customers will come, and you get more invitations to do fourhand dinners. With two stars, you see more regional customers, brands that want to partner you and guest chef invitations from overseas. For three stars, it is international appeal. It is still early, but we feel the difference. We have been getting a lot of foreign media coverage. Bookings have grown by about 20 per cent, and we have received a lot of foreign guests, sometimes close to 40 per cent of our bookings.''

And for those new to Michelin, there is also the euphoria. ''We have seen a significant increase in bookings, especially for our signature menus,'' says new one-star chef Vianney Massot. ''The star has definitely made the general public more aware of us.'' And for the other new two-starred Zen, head chef Tristin Farmer adds, ''We've always had a good number of reservations, but the difference now is that people are booking much more in advance than before. But it's been a tremendous journey - I'm so proud of what we've achieved in past 10 months. We're here for the long run and the future looks exceptional.''