By: Sharon Aron Baron
While we all have seen restaurant reviews online from Yelp, several South Florida residents numerous and thorough business reviews on that site have put them in Elite Status, opening the doors to exclusive parties and private events.
Jeanne and Gary Megel of Tamarac, Florida were members of Yelp for a few years, but like most of us, had never unlocked the full potential of the site.
“We never went out, everything was too expensive. Our social life was totally in the dumper and contact outside our house was limited to a few neighbors on an infrequent basis,” said Jeanne.
However when Gary told Jeanne that Yelp had events for people that write reviews, it was then that Jeanne became interested in contributing reviews for the site. Soon their social life took a turn for the better.
Their first event was at the Bakehouse in Miami where they had full access to the art exhibits inside or could go outside for “bites and sips.” Bites and sips turned out to be dozens of food and alcohol vendors of all kinds. Everywhere they turned was something tasty to eat or drink. The good news was that everything was free.
They also received “swag” at the event. The items ranged from t-shirts to keychains. There were also contests for bigger prizes, like electronics.
“The whole evening was amazing and we even met a few new people,” said Jeanne.
After that, they started writing more reviews and even posted photos. They did “check-ins,” at the various businesses they visited to start building up their credibility as serious Yelpers.
They also kept an eye on their Yelp accounts to check for any new events in the area.
After six months, they were accepted as part of Yelp’s Elite Squad, which opened up even more events for the smaller group of Yelpers who have shown a high level of dedication.
Yelp looks for three important criteria for members of their Elite Squad. First, members have to use their real names and photo, and write honest, unbiased opinions about businesses. Second they have to contribute not only reviews about the local experience, but they need to share happenings on the events tab, create lists, and use the mobile app to write meaningful tips, upload photos and check-ins.
Third, they need to connect with other Yelpers by voting on reviews, welcome new members, and send compliments on their favorite reviews. Elite members are nominated by other members and they only hold their status for one calendar year.
The Broward-Palm Beach Elite Squad has its own Community Manager named Blue Arauz. Before this, the Megel’s attended events mostly held in Miami. Now they get out even closer to their home and she said that because of his leadership, events are appearing more frequently.
The community manager also has drawings for concerts where they won four free tickets to KC and the Sunshine band. Last year, Jeanne and her daughter Katie, who is also an Elite Member, won tickets to the Boca Burger Battle as well as won four tickets to help build the worlds largest ice cream sundae in West Palm Beach.
Dan Cook of Coral Springs who is currently on Yelp’s Elite Squad, has 311 friends and has written 342 reviews. “The Yelp Events are fantastic. Where else can you go and have a business treat you like a VIP without forking over any dough,” he said. “On top of that, you meet some great people who basically share the same passion for food and drink.”
Dan’s favorite event was a Marlins baseball game where he got a behind-the-scenes tour of the new ball park and sampled different drinks and food. “They had so much food it was crazy,” he said. The event was organized by the Miami Yelp Community Manager Johnny T. as well as the Marlins organization and was held in a private section in the upper area of the first base line.
The Megel’s also had the opportunity to go to places that they have never been before, and they will likely go visit again. For example, one evening they had a full steak dinner at Longhorn, and last week, they had a four-course dinner at The Melting Pot. Typically, everything is free at the events except for gratuities for the waitstaff. Jeanne said they attended events like painting their own acrylic artwork on canvas, as well as getting line dancing lessons. She said that some events are big, some are small, but they both agree that all are fun.
To add fuel to the frenzy, Jeanne said that there are UYEs, or Unofficial Yelp Events. These are get-togethers put together by Yelpers that aren’t sponsored, so any fees for the event are paid as usual. There are also events like the “Dysfunctional Family Picnic,” which is a huge potluck party in a central location.
“There was more food than it was possible to eat, including a grill dedicated to roasting an entire lamb.”
Last year, Jeanne and Gary set up an unofficial event at their home as well as holding a Fourth of July barbecue with some of their friends on Yelp.
“To say that this has changed my life, is a significant understatement,” said Jeanne. “I had become almost reclusive in my lifestyle. Now, we’re seeing other Yelpers on a frequent basis outside of the events. I’ve made more friends in the past year than I’ve ever had, even after living 57 years in the same city.”
Interested in joining Yelp? Go to Yelp.com or download the app for your phone.
Sharon Aron Baron is the Editor of Talk Media and writer for Coral Springs Talk. CST was created in 2012 to provide News, Views and Entertainment for the residents of Coral Springs, Parkland and the rest of South Florida.