Michelin (finally) launches online restaurant guide, ignores startups

Mar 7, 2012
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I remember in 2010, Marc Simoncini said that 2011 would be “the year of mobile” for his online dating company, Meetic. At the time, I giggled. A whopping 4 years after the launch of the iPhone and Meetic was finally turning to mobile as its new platform? Well done.

But earlier this week when France’s famous Michelin Guide announced that it would be launching an online restaurant guide, it didn’t make me laugh at all. It actually almost made me cry (fine, I’m exaggerating). But why-oh-why is Michelin launching an online version of its guide in 2012, especially when there are so many online restaurant guides that it could’ve chosen to collaborate with? The situation sounded all too familiar, like what we’ve seen with FriendsClear and Zesto; larger French companies struggle with innovation but rather than collaborating with startups, they end up flat-out stealing ideas. W.T.F.

Caution: French restaurant – handle with care.

So let me start by telling you exactly what Michelin’s ridiculously innovative platform can do. It’s essentially a database of all restaurants in France, which users can search by location, cuisine type, price and additional keywords. Then, users can also leave comments and recommendations. And of course you can tweet, like, etc.

I admit that it is really nice to have one, full comprehensive database of restaurants (the ultimate goal) – which includes opening hours and whether or not the restaurant takes credit cards, something that can really cause a headache in France. Plus, working with traditional restaurants in France is not something that just anyone can do. As we’ve seen with OpenTable – who has clearly struggled in France – it requires an understanding of the local market, something that Michelin clearly has.

Reinventing the wheel.

Ah, but wait a minute, isn’t this whole online restaurant database more or less exactly what Yelp, Qype, Cityvox, LaFourchette and a number of other sites already offer? Clearly Michelin caught onto the fact that people now go online when they want to know where to eat – they’re not buying print copies of restaurant guides anymore. But why on earth it is seeking to recreate its own database rather than collaborate with the likes of LaFourchette or Restopolitan is beyond me.

Restopolitan’s founder, Stéphanie Pelaprat, says that her team actually met multiple times with Michelin. While they could have potentially worked together, she felt that Michelin clearly didn’t want to lose its share of the pie, which ultimately led the company to launching an independent platform.

Funny enough, this independent anti-social strategy may actually make Michelin look weaker. For Restopolitan, the launch of Michelin’s platform changes absolutely nothing for the startup. In fact, Pelaprat finds that the famous guide has almost lost some of its secret sauce by launching another database. The question of how Michelin plans to monetize this platform also remains; currently, certain restaurants wanting additional visibility can pay roughly €70 per year for additional services.

Naturally, Michelin is a well-known brand around the world, though it may less familiar with younger, more international crowds. Oh, and regarding mobile. The company says it’s planning to launch on the iPhone and Android before summer and will eventually allow you to make reservations via the app as well.