Restaurant awards: How to get nominated and win a James Beard Award

Editorial Team

5 min read
Three chefs working in kitchen

There is a correlation between winning awards and growing your business. Award-winning businesses are consistently seen as more reputable and honest, which can lead to higher employee morale, increased visibility with consumers, and the potential to charge higher prices.

Restaurant awards are particularly important, offering a clear competitive advantage to venues that win. The Michelin stars have proven to bring in new business. “With one Michelin star, you get about 20 percent more business. Two stars, you do about 40 percent more business, and with three stars, you’ll do about 100 percent more business. So from a business point…you can see the influence of the Michelin guide,” said Joël Robuchon, a former French chef and restaurateur, in Food & Wine magazine.

Michelin stars aren’t the only way to bring distinction to your restaurant. The James Beard awards are culinary awards that are both well-known among consumers and highly regarded in the restaurant industry. And, the good news is that your eatery may already be well positioned to win a James Beard.

What is the James Beard Award?

The James Beard Awards were founded in 1990 by the James Beard Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York. The awards recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system. They are often referred to as the “Oscars of the food world.”

The James Beard Awards are unique in the culinary world. The awards undergo a highly selective and transparent process that ensures fairness and representation across diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Not only is the Foundation committed to promoting diversity across its winners and nominees, but also in the composition of judges and throughout the selection process.

Innovation and authenticity are the main focus of the James Beard Awards. Winners are typically chefs and restaurateurs who embrace innovation and stay true to their culinary heritage and values. The awards are not just about recognizing culinary achievements; they also serve as a platform to advocate for important issues such as food justice, sustainability, and ethical practices. For instance, each nominee must submit an “Impact Statement” describing how their work aligns with the Foundation’s values of equity, transparency, respect, integrity, and community.

There are six James Beard Award categories: Book, Broadcast Media, Journalism, Leadership, Restaurant, and Chef. Each award has its own subcommittee of volunteers that oversees the procedures and selection of judges for their respective programs. These subcommittees confirm the eligibility of the entries during the open call process, which kicks off the entire experience.

How to get nominated for a James Beard Award

There are two ways to participate in the James Beard culinary awards. The first is through the Open Call for Entry, which applies to those interested in winning a Media award (e.g., the Book, Broadcast Media, and Journalism Awards programs). Candidates enter their own work with an application fee of $85.

The second option is the Open Call for Recommendations for both the Leadership and Restaurant and Chef Awards programs. Here, anyone may enter candidates for consideration, and the process is free. This is the process that most restaurant owners and chefs know about—and one that can be very competitive.

When the Open Call for Recommendations opens, you can increase your chances of being nominated by encouraging colleagues, diners, and industry insiders to participate. Use social media, press releases, and industry networks to amplify your nomination. Consider attending James Beard events and conferences to connect with potential nominators and gain insight into what the committee looks for.

Careful planning ahead can help you increase your chances of being nominated. Network actively with food professionals, especially those on the voting committees. Engage in discussions, showcase your expertise, and build genuine relationships.

Note that James Beard awards aren’t just for fine dining restaurants–the Foundation has widened its criteria to all restaurant types and actively seeks merchants who are BIPOC or other underrepresented groups. Each award has different criteria. Check the James Beard Foundation website to learn more about a specific category and the dates for open calls.

How to win a James Beard Award

James Beard Award submissions are usually collected in October and November, with a deadline towards the end of December. The Awards Committee–a group made up of food writers and regional judges–creates a list of semifinalists. This list is then sent to former award winners and other judges for voting. Those results are then compiled as a list of nominees, which get sent out for a second vote to decide the winners.

How hard is it to win a James Beard Award? It’s not easy. It can take multiple tries to win a James Beard Award. In 2023, for example, there were 115 nominees before the final round, 11 of which were included in 2022. Eater Chicago notes that Carrie Nahabedian, a chef at Naha restaurant in Chicago, was nominated three times before winning the Best Chef Great Lakes category in 2008. If you don’t make it through the first time, don’t be discouraged.

In total, there are 23 awards given out by the James Beard Foundation. Winners are typically announced in June at a gala awards ceremony.

Get your restaurant award-ready

The James Beard Awards are certainly prestigious, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of reach. Start prepping your restaurant for submission by setting up your operations for success. Clover’s restaurant POS and industry-specific tools are designed to help support you in achieving your professional goals–whether that’s high praise from a group of regular customers or an award from a national foundation.

To learn how Clover can help you run your business more efficiently so you can focus on delivering an award-winning dining experience, reach out to a Clover Business Consultant today.

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