Thoughts of a Former Yelp Elite

June 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

I didn’t start using Yelp until I moved to New York. I remember sitting in my aunt’s living room (I stayed with their family in New Jersey for a month before starting grad school at NYU), watching the Food Network (my parents don’t have cable at home) and excitedly Yelping and bookmarking all the restaurants I wanted to visit once I lived in the city.

I don’t think the whole Elite Squad thing was even on my radar in the beginning. Only one person I knew IRL was Elite as far as I knew, and she lived in Atlanta and was merely an acquaintance.

I used Yelp to remember where and what I had eaten. (My friend Justin claims to be able to store all that information in his brain, but I can do no such feat.) I blog as a way of recording my memories, so Yelping was a natural extension of my writing.

yelp profile

I no longer have the actual email, but I remember the feeling of elation and validation when I got the invitation a few months later to join the Elite Squad ‘13. (I think I replied with something along the lines of “This is the best day ever!!!!!!”)

By then, I had written about 80 reviews and was on track to do about 100 by the end of 2012. I wrote 100+ more the following year and attended five or so Elite events.

At my first event in March 2013, I brought my friend Sarah, and we reveled in the free booze and finger food being passed out on big trays, endlessly coming from the kitchen. There was music and a ton of other young people, and we were in a gorgeous restaurant with an awesome view of the water.

At some point during the event, we were befriended by a white guy I’ll call…Seth. (I use the passive voice because, really, he was the one making all the effort.) He was our age and seemed fun, if a little persistent, and somehow we all exchanged phone numbers (Sarah and I were both tipsy). Seth is quite a character in the Yelp Elite scene; he’s tight with Ruggy, our Community Manager (AKA Elite Squad Overlord) and just knows a lot of other Yelpers. I’ll get back to him later.

My honey and I at our first Yelp Elite event

A post shared by Sarah Pai (@yummmmpai) on

In the meantime, I was inviting friends to Elite events and showing them the enviable wonders of Yelp status. They each vowed to try to attain it for themselves, but if you’re not naturally inclined to write restaurant reviews, nothing but deliberate discipline will get you there.

By the end of 2013, I got my Elite status renewed for ‘14, and it seemed a whole wave of my friends were accepted into the fold as well. (I’m not saying I’m a trendsetter, but…)

Then in 2014, everything changed. I was leaving New York, then I wasn’t, then I broke up with B, started dating J and got a new job. I became busier and had less time to write about what I was eating. Besides, the kind of places J and I tended to go were already so well-documented (or had seasonal menus) that I felt like I didn’t have anything worth contributing.

My friendship with Seth had also flamed out by early 2014. I had thought that he was interesting enough to keep around as a friend, and we hung out a couple of times before I realized he had Yellow Fever and probably just wanted to get in my pants — the crude evidence being unsolicited dick pics (he knew I had a boyfriend!).

I was sad that just being friends wasn’t enough for him, but I couldn’t help but wonder if me ultimately blocking his texts played a small part in what followed… (Honestly I doubt he’s that petty, but you never know! He certainly had the connections!)

Anyway. The result of my life changes was that I wrote less reviews and also became less active in RSVPing for Elite events. I finally had a real job and was less enticed by free food.

But dropping off the radar doesn’t seem to be a dealbreaker for some Elites. Lucy, who joined Elite shortly after I did, told me that according to her Chicago Community Manager, once you’re in, you’re basically set for life. (The caveat being you should be friends with the CM…I never even had a conversation with Ruggy, oops.) So I was nervous about my status and relative inactivity in the community. My fears came true once 2015 rolled around and everybody was getting their Elite ‘15 badges…except me!

I know it sounds dumb and frivolous, but it was truly agitating. All my friends, who had written less (or less comprehensive) reviews than me, all somehow qualifying, while I, who was the first (forgive my emo ego), get shuffled into exile?? It was like being demoted from varsity to JV as a senior and seeing a bunch of sophomores get promoted in my stead. (/melodramatic)

And it’s not like I stopped using Yelp completely — I still relied on it to read other people’s reviews! But now the Elite ‘15 icon was getting shoved in my face, reminding me of what I had lost. It was humbling, almost embarrassing (not that anybody else cared or noticed LOL).

I don’t know what they consider when renewing people’s statuses. Quantity isn’t everything. Seth, for instance, has written a total of two reviews this entire year. But he’s clearly an Elite lifer. One of my other friends actually got his Elite status revoked as well, but he hasn’t written anything since May of last year, whereas I am still writing somewhat.

So if I’m not invested in the community or going to events, then what do I miss about being Elite? Well, for one, reviews by Elites get a lot more eyeballs than those of commoners. In the handful that I’ve written this year, I’ve received much fewer Useful/Funny/Cool votes. (My poor ego!)

Yelp contacts (“friends”) who used to interact with my check-ins and activity now appear to have forgotten about me. It’s like I’ve been labeled an outcast from the popular kids’ clique. (The horrors.) I’ve also gotten a lot more private messages from guys that clearly have nothing to do with food, but that’s a separate issue. (True horrors.)

Does it impact my life in any major way? No. But it took a few weeks for me to reconcile that it was the natural result of my lifestyle changes. Yelp Elite status was a sacrifice I made in order to make more time for other things I wanted, like going to a nice restaurant with my boyfriend and not obsessively remembering every detail of every dish to write up later.

J thinks that I should be miffed by Yelp’s arbitrary and opaque practices, but I don’t feel like they necessarily owe me anything. I benefit daily from using Yelp to read reviews, and I benefited from being Elite and getting free food (in my poor-grad-student time of need) for doing something I was doing already.

In the end, I’ll always fondly remember my time on the inside. But I’ll also always wonder why it ended.

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