I had not a single close friend during my teen years. Oh, I had acquaintances, and I would spend time with my two brothers and other family, but for the most part, I felt alone.
I was extremely shy when I was little. I don’t remember when it dawned on me that I was shy, but at some point I became aware of it and it caused me to withdraw further. I was a skinny kid, and not at all athletic. I wasn’t cool. I was geeky and dorky. As a result, I was picked on in school, and because I was shy I wouldn’t stand up for myself. I withdrew even more. By my early teens I was a loner. It’s better to be alone, than to be picked on. I felt I wasn’t likeable, so I was afraid to reach out to people and strike up friendships because I was convinced they wouldn’t like me. I deeply envied those who had a group of friends or were part of a clique. I desperately wanted to be a part of a group and spend time with others that have similar interests.
Thankfully, I quickly grew out of the shyness, and for the most part I’m now very outgoing. My personality has swung 180 degrees.
But a few years ago, I started to get frustrated with my social life. I was getting more and more into food, and there was no one among my friends or family that shared my passion for it. I wanted to share that passion with others who could appreciate it. I wanted to experience the camaraderie of being with birds of the same feather. But I had no idea how to make that happen.
That’s when I discovered Yelp.
I started writing reviews for Yelp in the summer of 2012. I felt my opinion was of some value, and others would appreciate my views, plus, I really just wanted to share my thoughts, no, check that, I needed to share my thoughts and opinions. In an odd way, I was feeling that same alone feeling I had as a teenager, and though I had (and have) many wonderful people in my life, there was still that small piece of me that was empty. Yet, while I enjoyed sharing my experiences via reviews and though I was getting feedback from those who liked my reviews, it wasn’t enough. I wanted more.
Yelp made it possible for me to meet and spend time with other like minded souls. Yelp is not merely a business reviews site. For lack of a better term, Yelp is the Facebook of review sites. At it’s core, it’s a social site centered around business reviews and especially restaurant reviews. It’s a place for people who are passionate about food to get together both online and face to face, to talk about, and enjoy food together.
Yelpers regularly create what’s called UYEs—Unofficial Yelp Events. Simply put, a bunch of food lovers get together to eat and talk about food. That’s exactly what I was looking for! I wanted to hang out with other foodies. I wanted to eat great (and not so great) food with them. I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to share my experiences, and I wanted to hear about theirs. Early last year I started attending a few UYEs.
Yelp has been a godsend. I’ve met and gotten to know so many wonderful people through Yelp UYEs. It has scratched the itch I had to spend time with other foodies. My social life is better, and I feel more fulfilled because of Yelp. It has been the main conduit through which I’ve been able to get together with others who share my passion for food. Writing hundreds of reviews also inspired me to start this blog. Yelp helped me there too.
But it’s been more than that. Now that Yelp has an official presence in the area via Daniel B., Yelp also sponsors events and partners with businesses to promote their event. The Food Pantries for the Capital District partnered with Yelp to promote their annual fundraising event last October. Part of that partnership was to grant one Yelper a spot on a 4 person judging team to judge a food competition that was held during the festivities. I was lucky enough to win a spot on the judging team. One of the other 3 judges was Chef Yono Purnomo of Yono’s. Not only did I get to meet Yono, I got to hang out with him for a couple of hours and get to know him. That never would’ve happened without Yelp.
Yelp does have some issues. It’s not perfect. There are those who use the site maliciously, and attempt to disparage and harm businesses. That’s unfortunate. But they are in the minority and the good Yelp does far outweigh the bad. Yelp can be an important tool for someone who’s new to an area to find someplace to eat other than McDonald’s or the Diner they saw when pulling off the exit ramp. Yelp makes it much easier to discover restaurants and business that would otherwise fly under the radar. And for people like me, who want to connect with other food lovers, it’s invaluable.