We hope to see some much needed diversity on the list this year.
— Erika Adams
It’s that time of year again, when the world’s most famous chefs gather for the industry’s most famous (or, sometimes, infamous) awards show. The annual ranking of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, as decided by a semi-anonymous group of around 1,000 volunteer judges, is closely watched within the industry; receiving a high ranking on the list is akin to a lifetime achievement award, not to mention solid bookings for the coming year.
What to Expect
This might be more of a hope than an expectation, but more women chefs should be in more prominent positions on the list this year. Historically, the list has been something of a European boys club of nominees. It doesn’t help that the organizers publish a separate “Best Female Chef” ranking, which smacks heavily of implied sexism and only serves to draw further ridicule. Clare Smyth, the British chef who won the top award this year, told The Washington Post that the ranking was “stupid.”
People in the industry have speculated that Dominque Crenn will make a big leap ahead on the list this year. Her two-Michelin-star restaurant, Atelier Crenn, was listed at number 83 in last year’s ranking. When the bottom half of the 2018 list was revealed last week, Atelier Crenn was notably absent from those ranks.
Eleven Madison Park, Osteria Francescana, and El Celler de Can Roca won the top three spots last year, respectively. Since the organization isn’t exactly known for publishing groundbreaking shakeups each year, we can probably expect to see those restaurants all in top spots again, perhaps in a different arrangement.
Where Is The Show Held?
This year, the show is being held in Bilbao, Spain and is receiving support from the tourism industry, as well as sponsors including San Pallegrino.
As Australia’s tourism board can attest, the event can be a huge tourism boom for the host city. Last year’s show was held in Melbourne, Australia, and according to the New York Times, Tourism Australia paid about $600,000 in U.S. dollars to be an official sponsor of the awards show, and Visit Victoria provided the location for the ceremony. Together, the tourism boards coordinated a week’s worth of activities around the show, flying in journalists, chefs, and sommeliers from around the world in an effort to boost Australia as a global food destination.
The blowout strategy worked extremely well. Lisa Ronson, Tourism Australia’s chief marketing officer, told Skift Table that the event generated about 4,000 media articles that reached approximately 5.5 billion people. The exposure would have been the equivalent of an advertising spend of $42.5 million in U.S. dollars.
The state of Victoria (where Melbourne is located) saw a 50 percent spike in restaurant bookings after 50 Best rolled through. Brae, an Australian restaurant that entered the list at number 44 last year, recorded 16,000 website views in the hour after the awards — a 3,900 percent increase in site traffic for the restaurant.
“From an ROI point of view, it was significant,” Ronson said in an interview last month. “[To compare] what we invested in it to what we returned, it was phenomenal.” The board measures success in terms of how much money international tourists spend on food and wine in the country. In 2015, the annual spend in the category was $381.7 million in U.S. dollars. By the end of 2017, that number had jumped to $1.2 billion.
Bilbao is undoubtedly hoping for similar returns this year. Though the official awards show is today, many media and industry people have been in the area for several days beforehand, where the World’s 50 Best team has been hosting daily programming leading up to the big night.
Who’s Behind All This?
The World’s 50 Best is a prized marketing juggernaut owned by a small UK-based trade media company called William Reed Business Media. The first 50 Best list was put out by Restaurant Magazine, one of William Reed’s several trade media properties.
Restaurant Magazine is still around, but William Reed has since spun off the World’s 50 Best as its own event not tied to any of the company’s publications. According to Companies House filings (Link opens PDF), William Reed’s events business (which includes other food and beverage trade conferences like the Farm Shop + Deli Show and the National Convenience Show) raked in $21.2 million dollars in its most recent fiscal year, around 50 percent of the company’s overall revenue.
According to the filings, in recent years, William Reed has made a concerted effort to move away from relying on its traditional print magazines as the business’s main source of revenue and instead invest heavily in the more profitable events category. The move correlates with 50 Best’s expansion: several years ago, the company started hosting the show outside of London, opening up the opportunity for host cities to bankroll the festivities. Plus, there’s more lists: 50 Best Restaurants has been spun off in many different directions (Asia’s 50 Best, Latin America’s 50 Best, 50 Best Bars, etc.).
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