In a recent article in the New Yorker, author John Colapinto describes his adventures with a stealth Michelin Guide restaurant inspector in New York City as she visited some restaurants to see if they met the stringent guidelines to merit the coveted Michelin stars. The Michelin hotel and restaurant guide has enjoyed enormous success in France and many other countries worldwide — except in the U.S. Back to that point a bit later. Michelin inspectors are careful to guard their identities from the hotels and restaurants they visit in order to ensure objectivity and no special treatment by the restaurant. Many restaurant critics have tried many ways, including elaborate disguises, to keep their identities a secret, but mostly to no avail. At Michelin, even the company executives have never met the inspectors.
Michelin inspectors are trained to rate the various aspects of the food and dining experience against a set of explicit standards. They perform a very detailed analysis of the food that compares it to these standards. They look for “quality of the products, mastery in the cooking, technical accuracy, balance of flavors, and creativity of the chef”. They figure out the precise ingredients contained in sauces. They look for consistency and accuracy. Why, it reminds me of a supplier quality audit, except for the stealth aspect of the quality auditors. There are specific, documented standards, approved by the quality function. A supplier is rated in relation to how well it meets those standards. And in some industries, particularly biotech and pharma, suppliers are monitored to ensure the ongoing reliability of the identity, quality and purity of the materials — only in the case of a restaurant, those materials are food ingredients. The Michelin auditor questions the waitstaff about dishes on the menu to ensure that they are knowledgeable and not bluffing when describing the dishes. Likewise, in a supplier audit, employees are quizzed about their knowledge of the process and expected outputs. Receiving the coveted Michelin stars, like achieving certification from a customer, increases business.
Sounds like a perfect system for determining who gets the Michelin stars. It works well for the French. But so far it hasn’t caught on all that well in the United States. It may just be that when it comes to dining, technical accuracy is less important to Americans. Americans, according to the article, have emotional reactions to a dining experience that may not be measurable according to Michelin standards. In fact, I would venture to say that Americans love restaurants based on the emotional experience and even the entertainment element above the actual objective quality of the restaurant.
To carry the supplier audit analogy further, evaluating suppliers on much more than the cut-and-dried aspects of a quality audit may yield richer results. This isn’t to say that a quality audit is not important. It is. However, the qualitative aspects of supplier performance, such as responsiveness to customers, collaboration in new product development, the quality of the relationship, also matter. When supplier metrics are boiled down to the basic quantitative metrics, they can fail to capture some of the value-adding aspects of the customer-supplier relationship and supplier performance. When a chef creates a special version of a dish for a lactose-intolerant customer, the chef may deviate from the standard. But the value to the customer may bring them back to the restaurant, whether or not the restaurant would be considered a great one by more objective standards.
As they say, it’s food for thought.