When I sat down for my first Michelin star dining experience at Parachute Restaurant in Chicago, I must admit -- I felt a little bit nervous. I had eaten at a variety of different restaurants in the city, including fine dining establishments, but there was something that felt particularly intimidating about a Michelin star restaurant. Thankfully, Parachute takes a more casual approach to fine dining and it was the perfect first step into the world of Michelin restaurants because it gave me the comfort and confidence to navigate future culinary experiences. 

Fast forward 5 years, and I have eaten at many Michelin stared restaurants (44 in total to be exact!) as well as meals at a handful of the ‘World’s 50 Best’ restaurants.

Tasting new foods and culinary adventures are some of my primary hobbies, and my husband and I really enjoy going to fancy restaurants for special occasions when we can. I totally get if the world of fine dining is intimidating though. The high prices, small portion sizes, fancy ingredients and confusing menus are enough to turn off many people. To help get you over your nerves, I have crafted the ultimate beginner’s guide to Michelin Star restaurants. 

But if you are curious about food and experimenting with your palate, I highly recommend eating at a Michelin star restaurant. In my experience, these restaurants are nowhere near as stuffy, scary or pretentious as you might think. I have been to steak restaurants far more snobbish than a Michelin star restaurant! Between the food and the ambiance, dining at a Michelin star restaurant will be an experience to remember.

Everything You Need to Know about Michelin Star Dining

Background on Michelin Fine Dining

What is the Michelin Star Guide?

Many people wonder where the name Michelin comes from, curious if it is the same as the tire company. Indeed it is! The Michelin Guide was originally published in the early 1900s as a field guide for French motorists looking for good meals along their cross country road trips. It has evolved over time, only started to become known for its fine dining rankings in the 1960s and 1970s. Ever since, being awarded a Michelin star has become one of the most lauded accolades a restaurant can receive globally. 

Don’t get Michelin stars confused with Michelin recommended restaurants or Bib Gourmand designated restaurants. Michelin recommended restaurants are a curated selection of high-quality restaurants endorsed by the Michelin committee, while the Bib Gourmand restaurants are considered affordable yet exceptional establishments, often considered to be “hidden gems” in that city or location. The Bib Gourmand restaurants are typically first reviewed as potential star awardees in the following year. It’s a bit like a Michelin star short list. 

Alinea Michelin Star Restaurant Chicago USA

What is the difference between 1, 2 and 3 stars?

Restaurants can be awarded one, two or three Michelin stars with three being the best. The exact scores and evaluation criteria are kept secret, but restaurants are judged roughly based on the following criteria:

  • Using Quality Products
  • Mastery of Flavor and Cooking Techniques
  • Personality of Chef in the Cuisine
  • Value for the Money and “Wow” Factor
  • Consistency of Food

In defining how to rank a one vs three star restaurant, Michelin says that 3 star restaurants are “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” while a two star is “excellent cooking, worth a detour” and a one star is a “very good restaurant in its category.” There are approximately 2,100 restaurants with 1 star, 400 with 2 stars and just over 100 with 3 stars. As of 2019, Japan had the most Michelin starred restaurants while France had the highest total number of stars. 

The Michelin Star awarding process happens once per year, and the final list of starred restaurants is announced in October for the following year. Restaurants can lose their Michelin star from one year to the next, and they can also be moved up from one to two or three.

Where are Michelin restaurants located?

The Michelin review panel only reviews restaurants in certain regions, and not all regions are approved for Michelin accreditation. Currently, Michelin stars can be found in 23 countries on 4 continents. Each year, the Michelin Guide will typically expand to new locations, but it is by no means everywhere. 

For example, there are only 6 places in the USA -- Chicago, New York, Boston, California, Florida and Washington DC -- that are reviewed by Michelin and can receive Michelin stars. That is why you see rankings like the James Beard Awards or the “World’s Best” as a way to denote the best restaurants in locations where the Michelin Guide is not accredited. 

Another glaring oversight of this Michelin Guide process is in central + south America. Brazil is the only country that is Michelin approved in Latin America, which is why restaurants like Pujol and Chila don’t appear. This can lead to some confusion when it comes to global best restaurant lists because some of the restaurants that appear on those lists don’t have Michelin stars yet are considered the best in the world.

Elements of a Michelin Star Meal

Tasting Menu vs Ala Carte Dining

Typically called a tasting menu or the chef’s menu, Michelin restaurants are famous for fixed menus typically ranging from 5-12 predetermined courses. A tasting menu is curated by the chef to highlight their style of cuisine and will typically include at least 2 starters, 2 entrees and one dessert. Tasting menus change a few times per year, usually around the seasons. Sounds like a lot of food? Don’t worry, the portion sizes are reduced so you won’t get overly full before you’ve had all the courses. The idea is that you will be full by the end of the meal, but not stuffed or overfed throughout. 

Some Michelin restaurants will let you choose the number of courses that you get on your tasting menu, while others will offer a couple of tasting menus to choose from. At Tulus Lotrek in Berlin, we had a choice between a vegetarian and meat/fish tasting menu, as well as the option to choose 5, 6 or 8 courses. 

If there is a signature dish the restaurant is famous for, that dish will typically stay on the tasting menu between seasons. If not, you can typically order it (along with other dishes) in the traditional ala-carte style of ordering. The 5 seasons of parmesan dish at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, which was featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, was not part of our tasting menu but I knew we had to try it, so they added it onto our course list as an ala carte dish. 

Michelin Star Meal Osteria Francescana Modena Italy

Amuse Bouche + Petit Fours

While the tasting menu may list a specific number of courses, there are likely to be a few extras that appear over the course of the meal which are not listed on the menu, but are included in the cost. Typically, there will be an amuse bouche (or several) to begin the meal. These are small bite sized snacks which are meant to be eaten in one bite. They typically make some sort of statement or give an indication of the meal to come.

For example, at our meal at Ox + Klee we had 5 amuse bouche in which each of them was dedicated to one of the five senses of taste. These amuse bouche were meant to wake up our palette to those tastes for the meal to come, and each of the courses of the meal tried to incorporate flavors for each taste type. 

In between the starters and entrée, there is likely to be a bread course. This is especially true in Europe -- I have never been to a Michelin meal without bread in Europe. Following the entrée, there is sometimes a palate cleanser, which might be something like a citrus sorbet or herb juice which removes any food or taste residues from your mouth in preparation for the desserts. After the desserts, there will usually be a petit four that comes. Often these are dropped off with the bill as the final taste of your time at the restaurant. 

Alinea Michelin Star Restaurant Chicago USA

Wine + Drink Pairings

In addition to choices regarding the tasting menu, a majority of Michelin star restaurants will offer the choice of a drink pairing. These will be drinks expertly matched to each course by a trained sommelier who aims to enhance and bring out the flavors of the dish. Similar to the food, the pours of these pairings will be less than a full glass of wine, since you’ll be having many of them. 

Usually the drink pairings are wine, but sometimes they can be cocktails, beer, or even non-alcoholic drink pairings. Aside from being high-quality, these pairings also tend to be very creative and interesting. You’ll be exposed to wine or drink flavors that you are unfamiliar with, or combinations with foods that you never would have thought of. 

What is the Service Like?

Of course you expect the food at a Michelin star restaurant to be memorable, but often equally as memorable is the service and experience. You will find the staff is very attentive, doing things like folding your napkin if you go to the bathroom, cleaning crumbs off of your table, and switching out your plates and silverware after each course. It feels like you don’t have to lift a finger for the whole meal! 

Because the dishes are typically quite complex, your server will typically present or describe each dish as it is served to you, walking you through the ingredients and flavors to pay attention to. It is a little bit like culinary story time!

The staff at Michelin star restaurants typically go through rigorous training and are extremely knowledgeable about the menu, ingredients, and can provide great recommendations. Never feel intimidated about asking questions! We have enjoyed extended conversations with our servers during Michelin meals because interest in the cuisine and preparation is encouraged. 

Another interesting thing that can happen during Michelin star meals is changing locations for various courses or getting a tour of the kitchen. We’ve had this happen a couple of times, and every time it is such a fun and adventurous way to experience your meal. Check out the video below to see our behind-the-scenes course inside Alinea’s kitchen! 

Preparing for a Michelin Dining Experience

Reservations at Michelin Restaurants

Nearly all Michelin star restaurants will require that you make a reservation ahead of time. Depending on the prestige or fame of the restaurant, you might need to make the reservation months in advance. For example, I made a reservation at Osteria Francescana 4 months before we dined there. 

Some restaurants will require that you put a deposit down for the meal, typically about 30-50% of the set menu price. This is usually levied as a hold on your credit card in case you cancel. Typically the reservations also carry a cancellation policy, so it is important to be sure about your date ahead of time, and be mindful of the timing to cancel if something unexpected comes up. 

If you don’t make a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant and still want to go, you can try calling the day or two before you want to visit and see if they’ve had any cancellations. This is a great way to snag reservations at the last minute, but it requires some persistence and flexibility. The times might be strange and there is no guarantee it will work. 

How Long Do Michelin Meals Take?

Meals at Michelin star restaurants are quite a production -- people call it food theatre after all! It is common for these meals to take at least 2 hours, but in my experience it is more like 3-4 hours. We once sat for a Michelin meal that took over 5 hours.

While this may sound arduous to some, the pacing of the courses and wine pairings keeps the meal steadily flowing and with good conversation and company, you’re unlikely to notice how long the meal takes. There are some restaurants that do an early and late sitting, but for the most part, there will only be one seating for lunch or dinner because the course of the meal takes a long time. 

How Much Does a Michelin Meal Cost?

I always get asked about the cost of Michelin star meals. It is hard to answer, because there is a massive range in cost, but the truth is that Michelin meals can be pretty expensive. That isn’t to say they all are though -- the cheapest Michelin star restaurant only costs $2! The price will fluctuate depending on how many courses you choose, if you get wine pairings, if you add on special courses, etc. The cheapest we have paid for 2 people at a Michelin restaurant is approximately $60 and the most we’ve paid is almost $1,000. 

Before making your reservation, you can usually check the price of the tasting menu on the website. Most Michelin restaurants will disclose the cost as part of the reservation process. If the restaurant doesn’t tell you, you can always call and ask. This price will be the baseline for the cost of the meal, since it is inclusive of all the courses but not any of the extra add-ons. If you add on drinks or pairings, the cost will go up from that baseline amount.

If you want to try and save a little money on your Michelin dining experiences, check if the restaurant offers lunch seatings. There are many Michelin restaurants that offer a “best-of” menu at lunch, which is usually a shorter tasting menu that features the restaurant’s most famous dishes. That way, the dinner menu can change more seasonally or have more creative opportunities. The lunch menus typically come at a lower price too! 

Etiquette Questions

Dietary Preferences

Because most Michelin restaurants offer fixed menus with predetermined dishes, you should disclose any dietary preferences, allergies or intolerances before arriving to the restaurant. Fine dining restaurants are able to adjust their menus according to their diner’s needs and wants -- you just have to tell them about it!

You’ll usually be asked about any special accommodations during the reservation process, but the restaurant might also call you to confirm the reservation 3-5 days beforehand, at which point you can disclose any dietary preferences. On the day of your meal, you’ll usually be asked about dietary preferences when you sit down or the server will mention any previously discussed preferences to confirm.  

Thankfully my husband and I don’t have any major dietary preferences that we have to work around, but one example of how accommodating a restaurant can be was our visit to Alinea. My husband Sam HATES beets because he thinks they taste like dirt. We were visiting Alinea in October, which is the prime growing season for beets. When we sat down, the server asked if we had any dietary concerns to worry about and I said that Sam prefers not to eat beets. Thank goodness I did -- one of the dishes was entirely made of beets! The team handled the request in stride, and Sam got a slightly adjusted dish made of mushrooms. 

Dress Code

The scale of how “fancy” a Michelin restaurant is varies widely with some being very formal while others are quite relaxed. I have seen fellow patrons wearing clothes from full suits to cargo pants, so it is hard to say what an appropriate dress code is for a Michelin dining experience. I typically wear a special “date night” outfit if we go to a 2 or 3 Michelin restaurant, but a standard business casual look is typically appropriate for 1 star restaurants.


Always a stressful point of eating at restaurants is determining how much to tip. Thankfully, a majority of Michelin restaurants that I’ve visited include a 15-20% service and tip fee automatically which you’ll see listed on the bill. Of course you are welcome to add additional tips on top of that if you are happy with the service! In international dining experiences, there are different expectations. Because European servers get paid higher wages than their American counterparts, a tip isn’t expected in the same way. Typically a 5-10% tip is fine. If you tip more, you will often see looks of surprise and gratitude since it is not as common to see 15-20% tips. 

Pin these images to find this post again!

Do you have questions about Michelin star restaurants? Comment below and I can help answer them!

Share this story

Comments Expand -
  1. Hello there! This blog post could not be written much better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept talking about this. I am going to forward this post to him.

    Fairly certain he’s going to have a very good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

  2. This is very interesting, You are a very professional blogger.
    I’ve joined your rss feed and look ahead to searching for more of your magnificent post.
    Also, I’ve shared your website in my social networks

  3. Hi! This might be a stupid question but do you have to be 21 to go to a Michelin restaurant? I want to go with my sister but we are both under 21, we’re looking at a 2-3 star restaurant. Thank you :))

    1. Hi Kylee. Thank you for your comment and it is definitely not a stupid question. Thankfully, you don’t need to be 21 to visit a Michelin star restaurant! You will need to be 21 in order to get the optional wine or drink pairings, if you are in the USA. Otherwise, you should be totally free & welcome to enjoy an amazing meal. I hope this helps!

  4. I want to find all the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5* Michelin rated restaurants in Santa Clara County, California. When I search online I find restuaratns that are Michelin-recommended mixed in with the 1* restaurants and that confuses me. How do I find the 1-5* restaurants online or in a book – either free or I pay for the info?
    Thanks. Your web info is helpful.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and it is great to hear that you are interested in finding Michelin restaurants in your area. As far as I know, there are only 1*, 2* or 3* restaurants, and California has about 90 restaurants with at least one star. You should be able to see them at the link below. At the top, try filtering by the distinction (i.e number of stars) to find the best option for what you’re looking for. I hope that helps! https://guide.michelin.com/us/en/california/restaurants/

  5. What’s Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads.
    I hope to contribute & aid different users like its helped me.

    Great job.

  6. This was very helpful. Thank you! For the first time, I will be dining at a few Michelin star restaurants in Chicago. Very nervous but excited. Hopefully I dont suffer from imposter syndrome as I’ve never experienced such fine dining before.

    Your guide helps me feel better prepared. Thank you!

    1. I am happy to hear this guide was helpful for you Lauren. You’ll have a great time during your Michelin meals!! No imposter syndrome needed. Everyone has to start somewhere 🙂

  7. Hey just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few
    of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think
    its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different
    web browsers and both show the same results.

  8. Dear Megan
    Please help.
    I don’t eat out. Technically not true.
    Where do I start?
    Four years ago I worked for a drinks company that had a “Living the Values” award, which I won. One could choose what to spend it on and the procurement dept. would make the necessary arrangements.
    I chose lunch at The Fat Duck.
    (The buyer couldn’t believe I would spend that much on one meal as it would buy him 20 or 30 “meals” at Pizza Hut.)
    The meal itself was the most disappointing experience of my life… simply because of my “plus one”, who I was “forced” to take as they have a non-negotiable “reservations for two or more only” policy.
    This convinced me that I only ever should dine alone, as I always have.
    I save what other people spend a year, on average, “eating out” and treat myself to Noma, or Hiša Franko, or Hide, or the Kitchin, or Dinner at Heston’s, etc.
    I have a reservation on 6 Dec for Osteria Francescana BUT it means a “plus one” as they also have a non-negotiable “reservations for two or more only” policy.
    Do you perhaps know of any online foodie communities, or social media platforms where one could “canvass” for a “plus one” that would like to “share” a reservation?

  9. Reading this site is enjoyable for me. I appreciate the advice and fascinating details. I’ve begun following you on Instagram.

    1. That’s an interesting question and I’m not entirely sure. I think it might be perceived as rude, but I could also imagine it happening. Maybe something like a journal to take notes on the meal might be better. Or read on your phone so it isn’t necessarily clear what you’re doing. Hard to say!

  10. i am not a foodie nor have i been to a michelin star restaurant, but i have a friend who is a foodie and visits these restaurants regularly. i always enjoy her posts on fb and wondered how much these meals were costing her! 🙂
    Great article and information! And, beautiful pictures and presentations of dishes! thank you.

  11. Үour stylе is unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff frοm.
    Many thanks for posting when you һave the opportunity, Guess I’ll ϳuѕt
    bo᧐ҝmɑrk this site.

  12. Hi my daughter and made a reservation for verso capitaneo for summer. This will be our first time experienCING a michelin restaurant. Have you ever been? and do you have to choose the 4-5 course menu or can you just choose two items from the menu?

    1. How exciting! I have never been to that restaurant, but I am sure you will have a great time. For tasting menus, you typically don’t have a choice in the courses but maybe in the number of courses, like 4 courses or 5 courses that you mentioned. I typically choose based on budget & hunger, often selecting 5 courses or more.

Add your thoughts today

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *