The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the restaurants. Fine dining restaurants are doing takeout, beloved neighborhood restaurants have turned into food banks, and institutions have closed forever. And for the organizations whose purpose was to exalt these restaurants with awards and rankings, carrying on as usual is no longer possible, especially as the collapse of restaurant industry has led many to question the utility of awards in the first place.
But the three main players in the restaurant awards game aren’t adapting in the same way. As they pivot, the James Beard Awards, World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and Michelin reveal different philosophies on the role of restaurant awards in a recovering restaurant industry (unsurprising, given their differing approaches to restaurant awards generally). Here’s what they have planned:
James Beard Awards
The COVID-19 pandemic hit partway through the James Beard Awards cycle. The James Beard Foundation released its list of chef and restaurant semifinalists and America’s Classics winners in February, and in March, the Foundation announced it would postpone its finalist announcement, which includes the nominees for its book and media awards. During the pause in the awards cycle, the Foundation established a relief fund and began distributing $15,000 to restaurant owners.
After discussing the idea with people in the industry, the Foundation decided the awards could “offer a glimmer of hope to an industry looking for light in a very dark time.” On May 4, the date originally planned for the James Beard Awards ceremony in Chicago, the Foundation went ahead with a virtual finalists announcement in partnership with Visit Philadelphia. During the live-streamed event, the Foundation revealed new dates for the James Beard Awards: the media awards will take place online on May 27 and the chef and restaurant awards will go on in Chicago on September 25; the exact format of those awards isn’t confirmed, but it seems the Foundation has hopes for an in-person event.
World’s 50 Best Restaurants
In late March, World’s 50 Best Restaurants announced there would be no World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2020. At the time, shortly after the organization announced the winners of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants via a virtual event, World’s 50 Best planned to push the list and awards ceremony to 2021. But on May 6, in a post on the World’s 50 Best website, director of content William Drew outlined the group’s plans without including a date for a future list. In answering the question of whether rankings will matter at all as the industry recovers, he raised the possibility that the World’s 50 Best list could “evolve to reflect fundamental transformations brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.”
In the meantime, World’s 50 Best is launching programs meant to support the restaurant industry, an effort it’s calling 50 Best for Recovery. An upcoming e-cookbook and an auction site supplied with “exceptional items” from 50 Best chefs, bartenders, and partners will raise money for the 50 Best Recovery fund, which will be used to support restaurant industry nonprofits around the world. In September, World’s 50 Best plans to hosts a “Recovery Summit” that will “gather the global gastronomic community together online to share learnings and explore visions of the future for restaurants and diners.”
Michelin is forging ahead with its guides with a few changes. According to Big 7 Travel, Michelin will delay publication of the printed red books but will continue to publish digital editions of the guides. Michelin awards ceremonies, which take place throughout the year in locations with Michelin guides, may also go on as planned. According to a spokesperson for the Michelin guides in North America, “Michelin is not cancelling any event at the moment. We will continue to closely monitor the current situation as we evaluate plans to appropriately recognize our culinary communities in California, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. later this year.”
While it’s likely that Michelin inspectors were able to complete some restaurant visits prior to the pandemic, Michelin has offered few details on how inspectors will commit to repeat inspections in this new climate. A Michelin spokesperson tells Big 7 Travel that Michelin has inspectors in each location with a guide, and that they will be restaurants’ “first clients” as they reopen.
In an April post on Michelin’s site, the international director of Michelin Guides Gwendal Poullennec acknowledged that it was a difficult time for the restaurant industry, but ensured that Michelin’s inspectors “will work with [restaurants] in any way we can to ensure that the situation gets back to normal as quickly, and as safely, as possible.” As Poullennec clarified to Big 7 Travel, this means evaluating whatever new menus restaurants offer as they adapt to coronavirus restrictions. But although Poullennec claims Michelin will “support, promote, publicize, and encourage” the restaurant community, actual financial support does not appear to be part of that plan. Ultimately, as Poullennec writes, Michelin believes its stars will “mean the same in 2021 as they always have,” and stars are all restaurants can hope to get from Michelin.
Update: May 7, 2020 10:15 a.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from a representative for the Michelin guides in North America.