Michelin (finally) launches online restaurant guide, ignores startups


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.

7 Responses

  1. Cyril Benhamou

    Hello Roxanne,
    Very relevant post. This is the french way of working, It not in our culture to collaborate each others.

  2. Frederic HALLEY

    Hello Roxanne,
    Not sure I agree with you on this one. Michelin invented (a century ago) the idea of the restaurant database, gude and review. Arguably the startups you mentionned are the ones that copied Michelin (or Zagat for consumer reviews).
    In terms of strategy, it makes sense for Michelin to go at it alone. They have the brand, know-how, market understanding, … I am not sure what any of these startups would bring to them that Michelin could not replicate quickly and easily.
    It is a normal strategy for an incumbent to let new entrants to take the risk and innovate and then adjust to the new market once what workds and does not work is clearer.

    • Roxanne

      Hi Frederic
      Yes, I know they have a strong brand, which is pretty much all that will save them, in my opinion. 
      However, yes, Michelin could build whatever startups are already doing, that’s not the point. The point is that they don’t even bother to collaborate, it simply reinvents the wheel. If we use this argument, we can call a majority of Google’s acquisitions pointless.
      It is building a database of restaurants and then going to launch on a mobile phone and then allow users to make reservations. This is almost ridiculous since it could’ve easily acquired another startup and launched with all the same functionality, no? My 2 cents. 

    • Frederic HALLEY

      I have to agree on your Google analogy. What is shocking is that it took them 10 years + to realize they had to change the business model and adapt to a mobile internet world.
      To focus on the big picture, I agree that most of the French big corp don’t get the value of moving fast (acquisition / partnership with startups being critical to do that) and have this obsession with doing  it themselves which is very 20th century.

  3. tristabridges

    Hi Roxanne,
    I agree that it is pretty absurd that they took so long to launch their guide online.  2012…really?
    However, not sure that they will have too many challenges in terms of uptake.  As you and Frederic pointed out, they have a very strong brand, particularly in gourmet resto segment.  Also, Michelin guide users may, in fact, differ somewhat from those of the start-ups you mentioned. I’d think that Michelin moving online might actually help bring some new users into the online resto guide market.
    It will be very interesting though to see if they can monetize it in such a way where they don’t cannibalize revenues from their guide rouge biz.

  4. sensationcaviar

    Yeah right! I agree with you Cyril, It’s the French way of working.

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