On March 30 the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards entirely abandoned plans for rankings for 2020 and pledged instead to focus on efforts to help the hospitality industry face the challenges of the novel coronavirus.
The awards ceremony, scheduled for June 2 in Antwerp, Belgium, will be postponed until next year. The voting on the world's best restaurant, though already completed, won't be revealed, even online.
"It was a difficult decision, but it doesn't seem the right time when the hospitality and restaurant sectors are suffering," says Will Drew, director of content for the World's 50 Best Restaurants organization.
"We still want to bring the leaders of the world of gastronomy together in a virtual world in order to help each other and exchange ideas and find ways to help each other," he says. "We'll be working to try and see what we can do, how we can connect people, and how we can use our global audience to assist and put restaurants in a better place to recover."
The London-based organization faced some criticism in social media last week when it proceeded to publish Asia's 50 Best Restaurants rankings. Drew says those went ahead because it was what the chefs wanted, whereas it was a different situation for the global industry.
'It's about the community' right now
"They understood that we have to think about those that suffer the most, not about those who are the most successful. The strongest have to speak for the weakest, and that is the real essence of being No. 1, or No. 2, or No. 4." says Massimo Bottura, whose Osteria Francescana in Modena northern Italy won the title of world's Best Restaurant twice, in 2016 and 2018. "These kind of awards, this recognition, are not our priority at this time. It's about the community, not about individual restaurants."
Will Guidara, former co-owner of Eleven Madison Park in New York, which was named the world's No. 1 restaurant in 2017, agrees, but he mourns the loss it brings to the community that the awards have fostered among chefs.
"It's tough," he says. "Every time something gets canceled, it's even longer before we get back to normal."
"Winning was a game changer," he continues. "They have been the most impactful restaurant award in the world. If the Olympics are canceled, you have to think 50 Best is not far behind."
That sense of the bottom completely falling out hits hard for Slovenian chef Ana Ros, whose Hisa Franko placed No. 38 last year and like much of world is under government shutdown orders.
"My team are crying," she says. "We've been looking forward to this so much. At this time, we need support more than ever. Gastronomy is not a cemetery. Michelin just canceled the stars for Slovenia, and now 50 Best? We've worked so hard this year, and now we will never know how we did. How am I supposed to motivate my team now?"
"The thing about the awards, and part of our calculus – they're great morale boosters," admits Mitchell Davis, the academy chair for North America East for the World's 50 Best. "They're good for the industry and get global attention."
The 50 Best are famous for spurring, among other things, a gigantic jump in reservations and revenue. El Cellar de Can Roca in Spain reported getting 2 million reservation requests within 24 hours after it was named No. 1 restaurant in 2013.
But when the question is about how restaurants will survive, he adds, "the elation of winning would be misplaced, considering how many people have so much to lose." Davis, who's also chief strategy officer for the James Beard Foundation, says they haven't yet determined what will happen with the 2020 James Beard Awards for restaurants.
Joe Warwick, who co-founded the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards and later the rival World Restaurant Awards, is happy with the decision: "I was critical when they ran the Asian list online last week, but they are doing the right thing now. Organizations like the 50 Best should be using their reach and their power to help the restaurant industry at this difficult time."
"Undoubtedly, there will be casualties," says Drew. "It is a tight-margin business, and this is a brutal and unprecedented situation. The restaurant world will change forever. We want to be a positive force."
The World's 50 Best Restaurants list is organized and compiled by William Reed Business Media. It's created from the votes of 1,040 restaurateurs, chefs, food writers, and foodies. The awards started in 2002 as a feature in Restaurant, a U.K. publication, based on the picks of journalists and chefs.