A new Michelin guidebook for the UK and Ireland comes out this week and with it, much celebration and criticism. Celebration amongst those restaurateurs who will have their very first taste of being ‘Michelin-starred’; and criticism because in some circles, many are asking if the Guides Michelin are still relevant in a Web 2.0 world. Has the big rubber man lost his edge?

Think of the brilliance of the initial concept: publish a handy guide for a specific audience (motorists) about a topic on which you are expert (quality motorist services, including where to eat) published under the name of venerable brand (Michelin). Tyres-to-food is not such a tenuous link when you think about what Michelin wanted to achieve. Tony Naylor writes in the Guardian: “(Jean-Luc) Naret’s strategy… was to cash in whatever brand value they had, expand quickly, and see whether they could establish some sort of position.” In short, Michelin don’t really have to do much of their own PR these days, because the restaurants do it for them – by the champagne bucket-full.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the Michelin Guide is dogged by reputational issues: of being too stuffy and secretive; of being in denial about the Web (however, I see that @Michelin_100 has made 98 tweets and has 575 followers) ; and perhaps most dangerously, of diminishing relevance. Does it kowtow to big chefs? Possibly. But its traditions are so veiled in secrecy, one might never know for sure.

Personally, I think it’s premature to think that so many years of brand equity could be dissolved overnight. But I do believe the Guide would do well by turning its notoriety for aloofness into something more easily embraced. Like appealing more to young, old and aspiring foodies alike . And it should note that, because we are an ageing society, we’re also a lot less pliable and willing to take things on face value, especially when discovering and collecting various points of view is far more fun.

Will you be ordering your 2011 UK and Ireland guide?

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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