Behind the Scenes of Yelp's Coveted Elite Event

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In this day in age, when a strand of anonymous hair is found in one's food, there is a knee-jerk reaction to report it on Yelp. But since the Broward-Palm Beach Yelp launched last March, the user-generated review site can be more than a catharsis to restaurant debacles, in fact nowadays it's just like any other social network -- except you have the chance to actually meet your fellow Yelp comrades the old-fashioned way, face-to-face (gasp!).

Over acrylic paints and red wine, Yelp held an event last night for its Elite Yelpers at Painting with a Twist. While it was explained that becoming an Elite Yelper is more attainable than the name sounds, it was also mentioned that each person in the room was chosen for his or her panache, or "it" factor as the Yelp team likes to call it.

See also: Broward-Palm Beach Gets Its Own Yelp Community and Community Manager

The fourth event held under the newly-launched Broward Palm Beach community, almost 50 of Yelp's most highly-recognized reviewers attended to mingle with others that have as much to say as they do.

Amid the tweeting and instagramming (#YelpPaints), reviewers tied on their aprons and began their art lesson, a silhouette of palm trees in front of an ocean horizon at sunset. Slightly reminiscent of elementary school art class, everyone acknowledged that this wasn't your typical event. "It's different from the other events so far," Brenda P. points out. "The others have been at restaurants. Here we can stand up, walk around, and talk to more people."

However, as Monica S. puts it -- she's actually Yelp's director of marketing for the Southeast U.S. -- it's a common misconception to assume that only restaurants are reviewed on Yelp. "While it seems like a foodie mecca where all these new restaurants are being opened and reviewed, only a small percentage of what is reviewed on Yelp is restaurants. You can review anything." It turns out shopping is the largest category on Yelp.

A cluster of new and seasoned Yelpers, community manager Blue A. fosters camaraderie by making a point of introducing the newer Yelpers to the older ones. Walking around, chatting people up with a sarcastic sense of humor, Blue is everyone's best friend. His name is shouted once every few minutes.

"We have an event once a month for our Elite Yelpers," Blue says. "It's a nice way for everyone to meet and get to know each other. We also have events for the whole community where everyone with a Yelp account is welcome. Those are also once a month."

Yelping since October 2011, Glenn G. is an elite Yelper who helps acclimatize the newer faces, a Yelp wingman if you will. His advice is to be active and elite Yelphood will follow. "Just get into it, join the talk threads, get involved, write reviews - quality reviews though, not one sentence reviews. But then again, maybe don't make them novels. Some of mine get that way."

Other than a handful of older adults, the majority of the crowd are millennials that have learned to balance their smart phones in one hand and their paintbrush in the other. "For the most part we recognize people in the room," Rachel M. asserts. "Sometimes I talk about it as if it's a sisterhood though."

To allow the paint to dry, Yelpers-turned-artists were urged to take frequent breaks of red wine, canned carbonated cocktails, and pretzel crisps and dip. While no one's canvas revealed a Van Gogh in the making, the crowd enjoyed laughing about their wannabe masterpieces.

As the night came to a close, attendees were bribed with guava cupcakes to place their thumbprints on a painting of the Yelp logo, to memorialize their participation that evening. Everyone awed at the notion as they carried their own works of art home with them.

"It's nice to have an activity to do," Rachel M. says. "Forever, I'll see it hanging around my house and I'll know I did it with Yelp."

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