In 1958, Exxon Mobil began sending out anonymous paid staff to review restaurants, hotels, and spas for its guide books called Mobil Travel Guides. Although less exclusive than the Michelin Guides, a 4 or 5 Mobil star was a significant achievement for any establishment.
In October 2009, Exxon Mobil licensed the brand to Five Star Ratings Corporation, which partnered with Forbes Media to rebrand the Mobil Stars as the Forbes Travel Guide.
The Mobil guides stopped being published in print form in 2011 and Forbes Travel Guide is now entirely online.
Unlike user-generated review sites, the Forbes inspectors visit nearly 1,000 hotels, restaurants and spas around the world, testing each property against up to 800 rigorous and objective standards to determine the ratings.
And, unlike the Michelin Guides, the Forbes guides provide detailed information explaining why a particular restaurant, hotel, or spa received such recognition. A Forbes reviewer anonymously evaluates a restaurants' food quality, service, ambience, convenience, sense of luxury, and comfort. For example, a list at HowStuffWorks, which previously published the Forbes Travel Guide, states that reviewers will assess the following, among more than 800 other criteria:
- whether valet parking is offered
- food presentations are interesting and beautiful
- fresh orange and grapefruit juice are available and used in mixed drinks
- dining room temperature is comfortable and unnoticed by guests
- china patterns are varied for different courses
- table is padded with silencer or heavy padding
- service is warm, attentive, and appreciative
- food is flawless
- food presentations are perfectly executed
- only solid ice cubes (no hollow) are used
Forbes also provides a larger variety of star ratings to restaurants throughout the United States, as compared to Michelin Guide's three cities.
A Forbes Five Star restaurant offers "a truly unique and distinctive dining experience. A Five Star restaurant consistently provides exceptional food, superlative service and elegant decor. An emphasis is placed on originality and personalized, attentive and discreet service. A gracious, warm dining room team attends to every detail of the meal."
Forbes Four Star restaurants "are exciting restaurants with often well-known chefs who feature creative, complex foods and emphasize various culinary techniques and a focus on seasonality. A highly trained dining room staff provides refined personal service."
Forbes Travel Guides also provides a list of Recommended Restaurants who "serve fresh, appealing food in a unique setting that offers a strong sense of location either by style or menu. Attention to detail is evident through the restaurant, from the service to the menu."
One of the major differences between Forbes and other restaurant review sites is that Forbes also reviews hotels and spas, meaning that its guides are more differentiated and less narrowly focused. In fact, most people know about the Forbes Stars for the hotel classification rather than the restaurant focus. As with the Michelin stars, restaurants on the list tend to be upscale and expensive.