How to Become Yelp Elite: The Perks and Benefits

How to Become Yelp Elite: The Perks and Benefits

I'm the ultimate free stuff hacker. I get fancy free food and incredible experiences by being Yelp Elite. If you're already eating out a few times a month, why not write a few reviews with pictures and let your inner food critic out? You'll get rewarded :)! #yelp #yelpelite #birdsofafire #financialindependence #earlyretirement #retireearly #freefood #freeexperiences #fire

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
  • Met Sheldon Simeon (awesome Top Chef contestant) at a poke event
  • 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
  • An event at an upscale “food court” with an entire roast pig, tiny poke bowls, full-size french pastries, and more

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 :)!

How Did I Become Yelp Elite?

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, even a while after I’d been, due to the pictures. It’s nice to have a “food diary” that you and others can read for future food excursions.

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 and now they were actually going to get some use, instead of just sitting quietly 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!

FYI, he will email you and then you’ll need to click on a button on the actual website — I didn’t realize this, but thankfully he followed up when he realized I didn’t complete the registration.

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 to learn from other people who became Elite and looked at other Yelp Elite profiles to see their stats (pictures, reviews, check-ins, etc). Like all things in life, everything varies.

1. Take Nice Pictures of Your Food

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. Try and take a picture of each dish or if the interior/exterior look interesting, take a picture of that too. On Yelp, there’s a little icon that shows how many pictures you’ve uploaded to your profile.

2. Write Reviews of Anything — Not Just Restaurants

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 because then it thinks you’re an early adopter and crux of your community when it comes to new things! Of course, people are usually searching and reviewing restaurants, but if you need a few more reviews to put you over the top to make Yelp Elite, try reviewing some non-restaurant places.

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. That being said, 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-in To Restaurants For Coupons

Though I don’t check-in, many of my Yelp 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. There is a little icon that shows how many check-ins you’ve done, but I’d say the crux of getting into Yelp Elite really is writing good reviews (and a bunch of them).

4. Write Tips If You Don’t Have Much To Say

If you don’t want to write a review for the place, add a tip to the page! That just means a really short comment. Common ones include “Does not accept CC”, “$10 CC min”, or “They only serve X item after Y time”, etc. If your reviews is too short, Yelp will sometimes just add it as a tip instead, so watch out for that. If you have more than 2 reasonably long sentences at least you should be good.

5. The Most Important Question: How many reviews do you need?

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

I’d recommend 40-65+ 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!). I wrote about 60ish reviews in the span of 2-3 months as I had all the pictures of restaurants from previous years and the Community Manager reached out, so it’s possible if you rack up a ton of reviews very quickly, the system will flag you as a potential member — let me know your data points in the comments below!

I’ve seen people try to nominate their friends and be unsuccessful and the main reason was probably not enough reviews.

NYC is large enough that they have split the Yelp Elite groups by boroughs (there are also separate NJ ones).

For smaller cities/areas :

I’ve seen people become elite with as few as 25+ reviews in a year. 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.

6. Renomination At The End of Every Year

At the end of every year, you renominate yourself to become Yelp Elite again the following year. As long as you’ve maintained what you did to get into the program, they’ll most likely make you Elite again. The results don’t come out exactly at midnight of the new year, so don’t freak out if you don’t see an email from them.

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.

It’s also fun to help and put pictures up of the food. When I go to a restaurant now, I look at the pictures of the food and match them to the menu to pick what I want to eat. Side note: when in Japan they show you the pictures of the food, how come they don’t do that here? It would be so useful, and maybe we’d order even more food…

2. Free Yelp Elite Events:  Food + Vouchers + Events

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.

The events are usually after work on the weekdays, so they’re pretty convenient in terms of working it into your schedule.

Some pictures of one of my favorite events below:

If you’re in NYC and want an awesome brunch place near Central Park, this restaurant is called Storico and is located in the New York Historical Society building, so you can also check out the cool history museum before or after brunch.

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. Yelp Elite Has 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 travel for free or be a 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 by writing reviews and doing “free” work. 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 things. 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 :).


17 thoughts on “How to Become Yelp Elite: The Perks and Benefits

  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.

  3. This is a fun idea! I really like to see pictures of the food, also. I don’t buy cookbooks (or check them out free from the library) unless there’s a picture for almost every recipe. Your pictures are so nice, what kind of camera do you use?

    1. I know, right? In Japan they have real-life plastic versions of the food, why don’t we have that in America?! I would love that.

      Aw, thanks! Just the iPhone 6. No filter or anything. When my phone finally breaks, I’m thinking of getting an Android and then getting Google Fi for a cell phone plan!

    1. No, haha. I wish :)! It’s a great group, you should try it out!

      Lol, “But I’m hungry….”.

      “Wait! It’ll just take two seconds, I’m rearranging the plates and making sure the lighting is good.”

      I am unashamed lol.

    1. If you have pictures you can retroactively do it :). It’s what I did. If work provides free food or there’s a work event I usually just write a review on it! Basically, I finance my Yelp Elite with events I probably already have to do anyway. Plus date nights we try to pick new restaurants for excitement :).

  4. I’ve always wanted to be a participant of one of those yelp elite parties but never was able to go to that status.

    The funny thing is, I am good friends someone high up at yelp, so he invites me to his gatherings sometimes.

    Is there anything you want me to relay to the company? I’m seeing the guy this Sunday for tennis.

    I hope I get the invite to one of the parties with you when I’m in New York OK? 🙂


    1. You guys seem like you eat out a few times a month! Plus you’re a writer :P. I’m sure you could make the quota!

      Company is doing great – elite events in NYC are pretty awesome, and I use Yelp for all my review-lookup needs.

      From a business standpoint, I think they should really try to steal business from Seamless/Grubhub. I mean, they already have trusted reviews + pics of the food on the site, get an outsourced group to link up food correctly and show the users a picture of each thing on the menu.

      They should go around to the big banks/consulting firms/tech/law firms/etc and offer to a discount to order through their platform instead of Seamless. I’m sure those fees from $25 dinners professionals order on the company’s dime could be a nice source of revenue…

      I forgot to enter the Elite competition to go to SF for free, but maybe next year. We could get together and play tennis, but I am sure you are in a higher level than I.

      Sounds like a plan!

    1. There are some events for +1s and some events you can’t invite another person due to space. If you and your partner both get status, you can usually get into the same events if your community manager knows that.

  5. I used to be a Yelp Elite in Toronto and I have to say that 95% of the Elites were also Asian. We had a really cool Yelp event once – sailing party on Lake Ontario. Was a blast!

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