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Does Michelin Guide still matter?
PLUS: Twitter's algo and Stanford's MBA.
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Today, we'll be talking about the Michelin Guide restaurant rating system (and whether it can adapt to an age of short-form video content like TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels).
Also this week:
Twitter's algorithm, explained
The most popular Stanford MBA courses
And them fire memes (including hilarious landing pages)
The Michelin Guide came to Canada last year. When talking to fellow Canadians about its arrival, there was a clear split between younger and older generations about the importance of the restaurant star rating system.
I wrote a Bloomberg Opinion article about the topic in the Fall and share a lightly edited version here today. Why? Because recency bias: I just ate at a Michelin spot and think you will like the piece.
Will TikTok Eat the Michelin Guide’s Lunch?
The next generation of eaters favors the wildly popular medium’s short-form videos for restaurant recommendations. That could eventually spell big trouble for the iconic star rating system.
Last summer, I traveled to Spain with my wife and son.
Between overflowing plates of Iberico ham and a few too many Aperol Spritzes, we made a point to visit the country’s food mecca of San Sebastián. Our sole purpose: to eat at Mugaritz, a two-star Michelin restaurant.
As my wife and I devoured spiny lobsters and sake handkerchiefs (don’t ask), we wondered whether our son would one day undertake his own Michelin-inspired journey, joining the throng of devotees who have made the Michelin Guide the gold standard for fine dining.
Or would the guide, with its review of more than 15,000 restaurants across 35 territories, have fallen prey to the disruption that has unseated so many pedigreed gatekeepers?
As with so many forms of modern culture — from music to books to film — the challenge could very well come from TikTok.
The short-form video app now has more than 1 billion users. In America, 100 million people scroll through TikTok’s incredibly effective recommendation algorithm and spend an average of 80 minutes a day on the app, “more than the time spent on Facebook and Instagram, combined” per the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, TikTok’s video-editing tools, quick 45-60 second dopamine hits and full-screen visuals are tailor-made for food.
“TikTok searches for food bring an experience that you can’t find anywhere else on the internet,” says Danny Kim, a TikTok food influencer with 3.7 million followers on his handle @DannyGrubs. “Google and Yelp don’t show the full experience like walking into a restaurant and seeing food come out in real time.”
Kim was formerly an engineer but pivoted to food media after his blog on the DC food scene (Eat the Capital) took off. Over the past year, he’s repeatedly gone viral by making short chef challenges like "can you make a gourmet meal with McDonald’s chicken nuggets?”
In a phone chat, Kim tells me that those digital views turn into real foot traffic and that TikTok is the #1 converter for restaurants. The app is getting more people through the door than Instagram, which is very popular with food influencers.
The TikTok-to-restaurant trend is hardly anecdotal. In June, a Google exec said that “almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search…they go to TikTok or Instagram.”
And short-form videos are now ubiquitous, with TikTok clones everywhere from Instagram Reels to YouTube Shorts to Snap Spotlight (these apps would really take off in the event of a US ban of the Chinese-owned TikTok).
“I think Gen Z just prefers visual search,” says Turner Novak, a venture capitalist who’s the founder of Banana Capital and writes The Split newsletter. “You see it in TikTok’s engagement, which has gotten to the point where Google is rolling out more visual search tools to mimic TikTok’s For You Page.
As the younger generation increasingly turns to TikTok for food recommendations, could Michelin become the culinary equivalent of the Oscars or Emmy awards: one-time gatekeepers of excellence that lose relevancy?
I put that question to Ben Liebmann, former chief operating officer of Noma, the 3-star Michelin restaurant founded by superstar Danish chef René Redzepi.
Liebmann enumerated the many threats to Michelin’s influence since the turn of the century:
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: Launched in 2002 by UK Media firm William Reed, the brand polls 1,000+ food experts and then ranks global restaurants 1-50.
Chef’s Table: The streaming show was launched on Netflix in 2015, catapulting the chefs it featured to star status and boosting restaurant traffic (a popularity bump typically reserved for recipients of new Michelin stars)
Instagram: The photo-sharing app was acquired by Facebook in 2012 and — with its glossy aesthetic — was the social media cannon for restaurants prior to TikTok (Liebmann says that Instagram remains Noma’s most important social channel by far)
TikTok’s food recommendations are the latest upstart, but Michelin’s reputation — built around a system of anonymous inspectors and rigorous review guidelines — is still the high bar according to Liebmann.
“I don’t think Michelin is going anywhere,” says Liebmann, who now runs Understory, a media consulting and production company. “Does it need to redefine itself for a new generation? Or migrate its content and tell its stories across new platforms or mediums? There are absolutely opportunities there. If you put aside what one thinks of the guide and starred review, the brand still stands for something.”
How do TikTok natives feel about Michelin?
Kim (AKA @DannyGrubs) wants to know more about the process of assigning stars and feels that anonymous inspectors are diametrically opposed to an individual speaking directly to the camera. The latter puts authenticity front-and-center, which is very important for the Gen-Z audience. The Eat the Capital founder still gives Michelin its due, though.
“One thing about Michelin, you’ll usually have a good dining experience,” says Kim. “It’ll be safe and there’s a standard that’ll be kept for cleanliness and the chef will be top tier.”
Does Michelin even need a TikTok strategy?
Liebmann doesn’t think so. To stay relevant in the following decades, Michelin shouldn’t hop around new platforms but, rather, double down on its original mission: solving the question of where to travel to eat.
Of course, the original Michelin Guide was founded to get French motorists to go around the continent looking for good food while driving on Michelin tires (the origin story has also become an incredible meme).
But in terms of global coverage, it’s still early days: The Guide didn’t even launch in America until 2005 before adding other major non-European economies in 2007 (Japan) and 2017 (China). And as my fellow columnist Bobby Ghosh recently noted, it only just got to Istanbul.
While Michelin obviously has an online presence now, the brand’s core products remain the physical book guides (over 30 million lifetime sales) and the live events to reveal star ratings.
In recent years, tourism boards have paid to have the platinum Michelin brand launch a Guide for their cities (to be clear, this is just to have inspectors show up). Per Eater, South Korea’s tourism board paid Michelin $1.8 million to launch a Seoul Guide in 2016 and Thailand’s government paid $4.4 million over 5 years, starting with Bangkok in 2017.
One Ernst & Young report suggests that such money is well spent: 71% of frequent travelers are willing to “increase spending if a Michelin Guide selection existed.”
As fate would have it, one of the newest to receive Michelin stars is much closer to me than Spain. In fact, it’s where I live: Vancouver (which also has a healthy supply of Aperol Spritzes). So keep your eyes peeled for a 30 second short-form video review describing my first hometown Michelin meal.
Today’s SatPost is brought to you by Bearly.AI
Why are you seeing this ad?
Because I co-founded an AI-powered research app called Bearly AI. And I stare at the user metrics 19 hours a day to see if it ticks up. We also just launched custom prompts for reading, writing and text-to-image AI tools (our users have created 2000+ of them).
Check out our prompt library and make your own custom prompts.
Links and memes
Twitter open-sourced part of its algorithm last week. Tanay Jaipuria has a good breakdown, of which I'll flag two things:
Retrieval: There are 100s of millions of tweets a day. Twitter serves you tweets based on who you follow ("in-network sources") and tweets that may interest you ("out-of-network sources"). Twitter classifies content into 145,000 communities like "NBA" or "Celebrities" and serves you "out-of-network" tweets based on which of those categories match your profile.
How do you get tweets to rank high? Twitter applies a boosting factor to a tweet for engagement: like (30x boost), retweet (20x), images/photos (2x), reply (1x). But it punishes tweets for URLs, too many hashtags, incorrectly spelt words, no text and if you get blocked, muted, unfollowed.
These are pretty common sense (people need to chill with the hashtags). However, I was surprised that "likes" are worth more than "retweets". Either way, I'm addicted to Twitter so I'll happily take any of that engagement.
Twitter vs. Substack. On Friday, Twitter's algo added one more wrinkle: it punished any tweet with a link to a Substack article. Earlier in the week, Substack — the newsletter platform that I've used to host my content and collect emails — launched a Twitter-clone called Notes. Elon & Co. hit back by blocking the ability to embed tweets in Substack, then it blocked any engagement on tweets that included a Substack link (thankfully, I have an old Wordpress site and turned it back on after deleting some embarrassing Star Wars fan fiction I once wrote).
The most obvious parallel for this situation is Twitter vs. Instagram in the early 2010s. As highlighted by Ben Thompson, Instagram started as a photo filter tool but turned into a social network by "bootstrapping" off of Twitter's contact list. By the time Twitter turned off its API to Instagram, the photo app had 80 million users (and then was acquired by Facebook).
As a haven for writers, Substack has clear competitive overlap with Twitter. And the two platforms were converging with Twitter adding long tweets (soon up to 10,000 characters) and Substack launching a Twitter clone. Substack recently raised $7m+ from writers on the platform but its valuation of ~$600m is rich based on media comps. The Substack link throttling could be: 1) kneecapping a competitor in preparation for a soon-to-be launched Twitter writing service; 2) a play to lower Substack's valuation for an acquisition; or 3) I have never made a correct prediction in my life.
Stanford MBA. The Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) MBA program has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard Business School (6% vs. 10%). So, what are these selective folk learning? According to The Economist, the 3 most popular courses are:
“Touchy Feely”: How to cultivate your public image.
“Paths to Power”: How to navigate organizations to gain and maintain power (UK's current PM Rishi Sunak took this class as all Stanford people like to remind us).
“Managing Growing Enterprises”: How to tactfully handle sensitive situations like layoffs or saying "no" to good opportunities.
Contrary to the stereotype of MBAs, these courses don't have much number-crunching and "aim to cultivate in students a capacity for hardheadedness, introspection and diplomacy". Yeah, but how many fire memes can they make? That's what I thought.
Podcast alert: We hosted Luke Burgis on the Not Investment Advice (NIA) podcast. Luke wrote the very good book Wanting, which talks about mimetic desire and French philosopher René Girard (who taught at Stanford). The chat was chalk full of insights and laughs.
And here some other baller links:
In defence of prompt engineering (Simon Willison)
A viral thread of Rick James' "house" in 1979 (Twitter)
MidJourney can now take a photo and give you a prompt for it (Twitter)
How Costco kept its Hot Dog combo at $1.50 for 38 years (Twitter)
How The Masters Became A $150 Million Annual Business (Huddle Up)
Why do we need subtitles for everything? (Youtube)
The Gambler who beat roulette (Bloomberg Business Week)
…and here some wild tweets.
Finally, this is funny thread of of tech companies with “honest headlines” including:
Calendly (“The Scheduling Tool People Bitch About on Twitter”)
WebFlow (“Good luck trying to find our pricing page”)
Netflix (“Here’s another show from Ricky Gervais”)