Yelp Elite: The Perks of Fancy Free Food and Cool Experiences

Yelp Elite: The Perks of Fancy Free Food and Cool Experiences

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Being financially independent and frugal is about maximizing your everyday savings, but it doesn’t mean you need to live a miserable life. Staying in and cooking your own meals most days means that you have more room to appreciate and spend on occasional fancy meals. You can still have your luxuries. Enter Yelp Elite for food.

For a foodie, the concept of Yelp Elite rocked my socks off. Once you were inducted you were able to attend a few events a month. The events, which are FREE, have ranged from:

  • wine tastings with small bites
  • 5 course meals at a remodeled luxury restaurant
  • Getting my brows done for the first time (there was laser hair removal but I was running a bit late and all slots filled up)
  • A free private waltz dance class.

Along the way I’ve met an amazing group of people who share the interests, and I get to see them at these cool free events :)!


So, how did I get here?

I take pictures of all my food (such an Asian thing, I know – yes, I’m Asian). So, it wasn’t that hard to write a few paragraphs about the food and experience I had when coming to a restaurant. In fact, it was kind of nice, as your memory about a meal gets hazy eventually. It’s nice to have a “food diary” that you and others can read.

Smoked duck with 8 different kinds of sauces. Um, yum, I love sauce. A random picture that has never seen the light of day.

A friend had mentioned in passing that Yelp Elite seemed like a good program for me. “You take a picture of all your food anyway. It says you can go meet other people who like food a lot and get free food.” All true!

So, I started writing a review every other day — I had a ton of pictures from the past 2 years here and now they were actually going to get some use, instead of just sitting silently in my phone’s photo albums. I figured I would self-nominate at around 100 reviews, as I didn’t know anyone that was Yelp Elite and wasn’t quite sure how to become Elite. At about 60 reviews in, my community manager emailed me asking if I’d like to be part of the program. Um… YES!


How do you become Yelp Elite?

I recommend the below. Note, I do not work for Yelp so there are no guarantees, but did do quite a bit of sleuthing to try and figure out how to get there for most people. I mostly Googled a bit + looked at other Yelp Elite profiles to see their stats. Like all things in life, everything varies.

1. Pictures

Take pictures of the food you eat and the inside of the restaurant. Make sure they aren’t blurry and nicely depict the food. Can you clearly see the food? Does it look graphically interesting? Is the lighting nice? Insert a bunch of cute kids and you might be able to get unlimited free food and 250k+ Instagram followers on day! Check them out @ FoodBaby.

2. Reviews

You can review things that are not restaurants — a bookstore, a movie theatre, a hiking trail, basically anything. I believe the algorithm looks favorably upon you if you are one of the first few to review a place — you’re an early adopter and crux of your community when it comes to new things!

In terms of length, my reviews are mostly 1-2 paragraphs long, with 3-5 sentences in each paragraph. If you’re witty or funny, incorporate that into your review! Be sure to proofread for correct grammar and spelling. None of that “u” instead of “you” nonsense. Yelp isn’t looking for the stuffy food critic in the magazine, it’s looking for reviews by ordinary people!

Below are a few examples. All these people are community managers who actually work for Yelp, and they have quality reviews. They’re the ones who review your application. Click on the review to see their profile.

Kim – Washington DC’s Community Manager
Ben – San Fransisco’s Community Manager

3. Check-ins

Though I don’t check-in, many of my Elite friends do. It can’t hurt and takes 2 seconds when you’re writing a review. Plus there are coupons at some restaurants for checking in! Free dessert, drinks, 10 percent off, etc.

4. Write Tips

If you don’t want to write a review for the place, add a tip! Common ones include “Does not accept CC”, “$10 CC min”, or “They only serve X item after Y time”, etc.

5. How many reviews do you need?

For large metropolitan cities (NYC, DC, SF, Miami, etc):

I’d recommend 65+ reviews in a year before nominating yourself (or getting another Yelp Elite to nominate). Community managers scan for new Elite members by themselves, so it’s possible to become Elite without even being nominated (like me!).

For smaller cities/areas :

I’ve seen people become elite with as few as 25+ reviews. A couple of friends have said they self-nominated, so give it a try.

It’s a good reminder that quality reviews are better than quantity.


Why should you consider becoming Yelp Elite?

1. You’re already eating out, why not get perks from it?

If you’re already eating out a few times a month, then trying to become Yelp Elite won’t add any expenses to your budget. All you need to do is take a little time to take pictures of your food, and write maybe 2 paragraphs about your meal. It’s fun and you get to act like a food critic :D. I probably spend less than 10 minutes per review.

2. Free Yelp Elite Events:  Food + Coupons

You get cool experiences and to taste a restaurant’s food, all for the low, low, price of free at Yelp Elite events! A lot of times, the restaurant the event is featuring is one that is newly opened, so you get to be one of the first people to visit. Whenever your friends ask you, “Can you tell me a good restaurant in X district?”, you’ll be the first one to chime in — and they can see the pictures via Yelp. I’m a very visual eater, so it’s nice to see the picture of the food before I order. Instead of eating out every week, maybe you can eat out every other week or something due to the cool events you get to attend.

Some pictures of one of my favorite events below:

Olive Tapenade, Beer mustard, pickles, an assortment of charcuterie and cheese
Amazingly refreshing alcoholic beverage
Tuna Carpaccio with Rock Salt
Steak Tartare with Crispy Bone Marrow and Quail Egg
Sea Urchin Crostini
Wild Mushroom Salad with Crispy egg and lamb’s lettuce
Seared Diver Sea Scallops, with bbq pork belly and quail eggs. They REALLY love quail eggs here. And so do I!
Pumpkin Risotto with aged parmesan and 50-year-old balsamic vinegar. Such a good seasonal dish.
A candy apple that is soft on the inside with a salted caramel core, chocolate sponge cake, and almond cream.

3. Amazing People

The people you meet are amazing. This is a group of people that are focused on food and enjoying life, but they’re also great at finding the best deals around. I’d argue they’re the most in tune with the city you’re in. At the last event, someone had mentioned cheap ways to get tickets to shows. Everyone chimed in with their favorites — It seemed no one was aware of another method someone mentioned. Collective knowledge at hand was crazy!

It’s an interesting Venn diagram of people who are willing to write reviews up for the perks. They’re usually extremely knowledgable people, but are likely to also be a travel hacker or spending optimizer.

4. Everyone Wins

It’s a win-win-win for you, Yelp, and the restaurant. You’re incentivized to be a part of Yelp Elite because of the cool perks. Yelp is incentivized because without quality reviews, the website wouldn’t be as integral to the foodie community. The restaurant who hosts these events gets free press and word of mouth from the people who love to experience new and great things the most. It’s kind of like bloggers getting free items and providing free press, but with Yelp and food.

So, considering it? Maybe we’ll see each other IRL at an Elite event :).

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6 thoughts on “Yelp Elite: The Perks of Fancy Free Food and Cool Experiences

  1. Ha! This is awesome! I never knew this existed! Of course we don’t get out much with a kiddo nowadays…and we are too cheap, ahem, I mean financially conservative, to go out! But your pics made me hungry and I would try it all! Nice compilation and what a great lil’ side hustle!

    1. I’m going to start using “financially conservative” more often. Definitely a better word! Some of the times we go out are for date nights and work events (also free food haha). I want to be frugal, but still have a nice foodie life. I’m a weird bird. Thanks so much!

  2. That is awesome! Didn’t even knew that such a thing existed.

    However, we don’t go out to eat that often. GBoy cannot eat a lot of things, and it is a pain to eat out. Especially since he only wants those things.

    Your photos are great too. That should have definitely helped as well.

    1. Thank you!

      That’s awesome, Gboy (accidentally) saves you money this way!

      Thanks a bunch! I’m always forgetful, so pictures really help me remember experiences. After a few months, I can’t really describe all the food I eat, so a picture is super helpful.

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