My interest in getting started on Yelp was accidental. We got invited by one of my wife’s friends to go to an Elite Yelp event last year. For some reason, I never thought an event of this kind ever existed. The event was all about desserts and it was free to those on the invite list. Free food. Free party favors by Yelp. Great way to meet new people to talk about food. Did I mention the food was free?

We talked to one Elite “Yelper” that day and she said it wasn’t too difficult to become an Elite Yelper. You need to eat and write a lot of reviews and use Yelp as often as you can. I do eat A LOT. I do like to write, even though my wife is right that I need to proof read what I’m writing [which is what I’m doing right now] because there are a lot of grammatical mistakes the first go around. But the draw was the free food that day. And it wasn’t a bunch of Oreos and Chip Ahoys sitting on the table. There were some really fabulous desserts there and even though it was sugar overload, it was a fun way to have food as the catalyst for social networking. So, why not?

For the last year, as you can see above, I have made “friends” on Yelp, written about 100 reviews locally and from our travels [most notably New York, London and Paris], offered tips, and created lists. I’ve come to really enjoy writing reviews and reading other people’s reviews. On October 14, 2010, I officially became an Elite Yelper. The angels sang, the heavens opened as I dreamt about the different Yelp events we will get to go to…[Taking a moment to look out the window in bliss]…OK, the angels didn’t sing, the heavens didn’t open, but nonetheless, I was still really happy.

Food is still, to me, the quintessential social force that draws people together. One can argue alcohol is, but I still think food is what evokes the memories of people when they remember their past the most. It helps chefs/cooks innovate new dishes based on classics of yore. It creates memories of places and people that perhaps only music, as the other medium, could conjure up. But what even music can’t even do is to get a small group [less than 20] of people, friends or not, to come together and be the focal point starting conversation and leading that to people talking about their lives, interests, hobbies, etc. I don’t hear a lot of people saying, “Hey guys, got the new U2 CD, come over and we’ll see how it compares to their other ones.” While music still has high impact in connecting people, food has flourished in the social media. People are passionate about great food and service as well as crap food and service. People want to express themselves in the way they prepare food, eat food and write about food. As with music, there is a lot of high and lows about making something out of basic ingredients. But we have to be realistic, not everyone can be Bono or Chris Martin, but everyone needs to eat. Whether you’re making a simple PBJ or creating a new dish from the basic PBJ, there’s a process that goes from an idea or just basic hunger, to putting food on a plate and eating it. Not everyone can be Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay, but everyone prepares food in one way or another. Not everyone loves food or the passion to cook food, but everyone has a palate that tells them if what they just ate was good or bad.

Being an Elite Yelper, I’ve come to realize, it’s not just about writing reviews endlessly, get the Elite status and you’re done. It’s more than just putting your “Yelper” flair to what you write. It’s still about remembering the moment in which you are at a particular restaurant and eating a particular food. It has helped me to remember our travels as much as, if not more,writing a review about my apathy towards Baja Fresh. And that is what being an Elite Yelper means to me. Yes, it’s really cool to continue to be an ambassador for Yelp, but it’s also about meeting new people, reading what they have to say, and having a connection, even if it’s a digital one, to other people. In our day and age, where people starve for relationships, where Facebook and Twitter has become the norm in how we keep up with our friends, it is only realistic to do the same with food. Because food is still what brings people together.