Opinion: Stars Don’t Come Cheap!
Claiming to help promote Thailand as an international gastronomic destination, the Bangkok only guide is estimated by some to be costing the Michelin star-struck TAT close to 150 million baht in sponsorship fees over a five-year contract. This might lead to questions about total impartiality, as doubtless such a hefty sponsorship tag comes with strings attached.
What might these strings be? Thailand Tatler is guessing there’s a clause that states that at least one street food supplier must get a Michelin star and another that requests that a decent number of Thai restaurants with Thai head chefs make it into the star category.
With record numbers of tourists visiting Thailand but with the majority of those staying outside of the capital, it remains to be seen just how this new guide helps in promoting Thailand as a gastronomic destination. Although it is understood that future editions will venture outside the safe territory of the capital, it is less clear how the full-time Michelin reviewers will judge the diversity of street food kingdom-wide.
A recent press release states that Michelin accepts no sponsorship (other than the millions from the TAT) and that its reviewers operate in total anonymity, like any other restaurant customer. So we put that claim to the test and asked chefs from the top 10 restaurants featured in our own Thailand Tatler’s Best Restaurants 2017 guide, only to discover that a number of them were aware that they had been tested because the ‘inspectors’ had made themselves known so as to visit kitchens as part of their assessment.
The TAT is no newcomer to sponsoring restaurant lists and has been a major supporter of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in recent years. Co-incidentally, during its sponsorship of this list a number of Thai restaurants made it into the top 10, including the number one restaurant. And squeezing into the top 50 was the Dining Room at the W Hotel, which was also a sponsor. It will be interesting to see how many of these Bangkok-based restaurants still make it into the 2018 Asia’s Top 50 list now that the Thai sponsorship money has gone elsewhere.
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Mr Segsarn Trai-Ukos, country director of Michelin Siam Co. Ltd, explained that the Bangkok Guide is the sixth in Asia and that it will play a significant part in promoting Thai culinary treasures as well as elevating the quality of service of restaurants in Thailand to be on par with international standards. Curious about this, as Thailand Tatler believes that the country is famed for its service standards, we contacted Michelin’s Thai PR team and asked if Mr Segsarn would care to clarify whether he thought that Thai service standards were currently below international levels and specifically how the Guide might improve those standards. Despite numerous requests no response was received.
Mr Segsarn also asked everyone to join the fun of anticipating which restaurants ought to be listed in the Bangkok guide. Our guess is that there will be just as many Thai cuisine restaurants as other cuisines gaining stars and one obligatory street food restaurant with a star because that will make for great publicity and help give the TAT sponsorship budget some extra bang for its baht.