It’s almost as if the recipients of single Michelin stars huddled together and compared notes because a magic number has emerged. Plume reports a 15 percent increase in web traffic; The Dabney says they’ve seen a 15 percent uptick in walk-in diners; and Sushi Taro says sales have risen by 15 percent since the first-ever Michelin Guide was released in D.C. on Oct. 13.
Many expected that reservations would be harder to secure or that nary a seat would be empty, but restaurateurs have noticed other marked changes, including what diners are choosing to order and shifting customer demographics.
For starters, diners are ordering pricier items. Maybe it’s because a Michelin star acts like a stamp of approval, suggesting springing for something special will likely be a good investment. Or maybe it’s that diners who know about the Michelin Guide are predisposed to have deeper pockets. The guide, after all, is a travel companion for the jet-set type.
“I noticed that people are spending more,” says Jin Yamazaki, the general manager at Sushi Taro. “We’re using three times more lobster since the guide came out and more people are ordering the kaiseki tasting.” Kaiseki is an artful form of a Japanese tasting menu, and there are various options at Sushi Taro ranging from $80 per person to $110 per person.
The restaurant’s omakase counter, where diners get a personal sushi chef for the evening, is even more exclusive, but Yamazaki says the restaurant doesn’t need Michelin’s help filling those seats. “It is booked a month in advance, and we made it this far by ourselves,” he says. “So Michelin’s announcement just created more people who cannot get in.”
Blue Duck Tavern General Manager Joseph Cerione says guests are selecting premium wines. “It’s created an environment where people want to explore more on the wine list—they’re looking for unique wines or higher-end wines,” he says.
Diners are also exploring the food menu and ordering more. “We’ve seen more foodies, people that are really looking for an experience, not just coming in for a meal but dissecting the menu, wanting to experience different dishes or multiple courses even for lunch,” he says.
Sean Mulligan, restaurant manager at Plume inside The Jefferson hotel, says reservations are up by 20 percent and that they’re seeing different kinds of diners. “The guest is skewing younger than in the past, and we’re seeing more destination diners than before,” he says.
Cerione says the same is true for Blue Duck Tavern, where there have also been more international guests. “I don’t know if Michelin has to do with that, but Michelin being more known in Europe versus the U.S., we’re seeing an uptick in international clientele.”
Chef Fabio Trabocchi, who received a Michelin star at Fiola, has also seen more business, but he says a mix of locals and travelers visiting the area have contributed to that.
While restaurants are experiencing changes, they’re not making many just yet. Cerione says Blue Duck Tavern hasn’t made tweaks or increased its prices. “We haven’t changed a thing; we received the award for what we were doing, not what we want to do in the future,” he says.
Mulligan concurs. “We haven’t made any policy changes, just reinforcing what was already in existence as we’re seeing more last-minute cancellations,” he says.
But they are feeling the pressure.
“The one thing with recognition, receiving a Michelin star, I think there’s a segment of the population that comes in with expectations,” Cerione says. “They want to see and try to test your worth and whether you’re truly deserving, there’s a bit of that too. But for the most part it’s been great, truly an honor to be in such small company.”
Photo courtesy of Plume