The Michelin Guide (French: Guide Michelin) is a series of annual guide books published by Michelin for over a dozen countries. The term normally refers to the Michelin Red Guide, the oldest and best-known European hotel and restaurant guide, which awards the Michelin stars. Michelin also publishes Green Guides for travel and tourism, as well as several newer publications such as the Guide Voyageur Pratique (independent travel), Guide Gourmand (good-value eating-places), Guide Escapade (quick breaks) and Guide Coup de Cœur (favourite hotels).
The Michelin Guide has been around since the early 1900s and started as a car and road trip guide. André and Édouard Michelin wanted to create a guide to the best restaurants and accommodations available along the travel route of motorists. The guide quickly became incredibly popular for its restaurant information as it highlighted the most exceptional chefs and eateries. It is now the oldest such publication and is now considered the most well-known and influential guide in the culinary world. Many anxiously await its yearly publication, whether culinary aficionados or industry insiders.
The Michelin Guide reviews and rates top restaurants and world chefs with a ratings system of one to three stars with the highest rated being three star chefs and restaurants. Many chefs strive to be listed as a Michelin three star chef as this gives them a high amount of exposure. A three star chef can experience a high level of fame and wealth that may not have been likely without the acknowledgement of the Michelin guide. Many star chefs strive to stay a Michelin star chef as they could lose business and their public name if they go on to lose stars. The Michelin star rating is the most recognized rating system in the culinary world for all of Western Europe.
André Michelin published the first edition of the guide in 1900 to help drivers maintain their cars, find decent lodging, and eat well while touring France. It included addresses of gasoline distributors, mechanics, and tire dealers, along with local prices for fuel, tires, and auto repairs.
The guide was distributed free from 1900 until 1920. The Michelin brothers began charging for the guides to establish more credibility after a pile of them were found propping up a garage workbench. The guide began recognizing outstanding restaurants in 1926 by marking their listings with a star; two and three stars were added in the early 1930s. The cover of the guide was originally blue, but since 1931 has been red.
Gradually, additional guides were introduced for other European countries. By 2010, eight Red Guides were published for the countries of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium/Luxembourg, Italy, Spain & Portugal, Switzerland, and Great Britain & Ireland.
Red Guides have historically listed many more restaurants than rivals, relying on an extensive system of symbols to describe each establishment in as little as two lines. Reviews of starred restaurants also include two to three culinary specialities. Recently, however, short summaries (2–3 lines) have been added to enhance descriptions of many establishments. These summaries are written in the language of the country for which the guide is published, but the symbols are the same throughout all editions.
Red Guides are also published for selected major cities: Paris, London, Tokyo, Kyoto/Osaka, Hong Kong & Macau, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Las Vegas. There is also a Red Guide encompassing the "Main Cities of Europe."
The city that has the most starred restaurants is Tokyo, with the Red Guide of 2010 showing 197 restaurants. Eleven restaurants have received three stars, 42 have two stars, and 144 have one star. This is more than three times New York City's total of 56 restaurants, and more than twice as many as Paris which has 96. However, Tokyo is home to 160,000 restaurants, compared to New York City's 25,000 and Paris's 13,000.
In 2008, German restaurateur Juliane Caspar was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the French edition of the Red Guide. She is the first woman and first non-French national to edit the French edition.
Michelin operates on the principle that only anonymous, professionally trained experts can be trusted to make accurate, impartial assessments of a restaurant's food and service (as opposed, for example, to the Zagat Survey, which relies on restaurant patrons for its reviews).
The Michelin inspectors write detailed reports, which are collated at company headquarters in Paris. All favorable ratings are distilled, at annual "stars meetings," into rankings of 3 stars, 2 stars, 1 star, or no stars. Restaurants that Michelin deems unworthy of patronage are simply not included in the guide.
Restaurants are revisited regularly to keep reviews current; for example, Michelin claims that its inspectors revisit all 4,000 reviewed restaurants in France every 18 months, and all starred restaurants several times a year.
"Michelin has gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve the anonymity of its inspectors. Many of the company's top executives have never met an inspector, and inspectors themselves are advised not to disclose their line of work, even to their parents (who might be tempted to boast about it)."
The November 23, 2009 issue of The New Yorker carries an interview by John Colapinto with an unnamed New York-based Michelin inspector. This was the first time Michelin has ever allowed one of its inspectors to speak to a journalist on the record. In December 2010, ABC's Nightline broadcast an interview with an unnamed inspector. 
The guide awards one to three stars to a small number of restaurants of outstanding quality. One star indicates a "very good cuisine in its category", a two-star ranking represents "excellent cuisine, worth a detour," and three stars are awarded to restaurants offering "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey".
A three-star Michelin ranking is rare. As of late 2009, there were 26 three-star restaurants in France, and only 81 in the world.