There's no question that Chicago's food scene has it all. Between popular fine-dining restaurants and hard-to-find places serving authentic cuisine, there's a diverse range of local restaurants and food businesses. This provides the perfect opportunity for foodies to write about the places they adore most. One specific group, however, is extremely dedicated to sharing personal experiences with family and friends: Yelpers.

Yelp Chicago North Shore

Chicago’s North Shore is home to a vibrant and active Yelp community. Yelp Chicago North Shore spreads the word about businesses in suburbs like Evanston and Wilmette. It also hosts invite-only events at local establishments, too. 

One of the biggest players in helping this community grow is Angela Shaffer, Yelps North Shore's Community Director. She launched Yelp North Shore in 2012. Shaffer’s job is to help engage the Yelp North Shore community and connect fellow Yelpers to local businesses.

“The biggest challenge for any business owner is how to find customers," Shaffer says. "At Yelp, I come up with fun and unique ways to spotlight local businesses and connect them with our Yelp community.” 

Crème de la Crème: Yelp Elites

Amongst the North Shore’s strong Yelp community are the Yelp Elites. Yelp Elites are particularly active members on Yelp who write well-written reviews, take high quality photos, and make sure to keep an up-to-date, detailed personal profile. According to Shaffer, all decisions regarding who becomes Yelp Elite are handled by the Yelp Elite Council. Active members of the Yelp community are also encouraged to self-nominate or nominate others that they deem fitting to be Elite.

“They are hand-picked leaders in the review community who love to spread the word about great local businesses," Shaffer says, regarding the Yelp Elite squad. "Their reviews are typically insightful and convincing.”

Elites also enjoy perks, such as events and other special opportunities around Chicago's North Shore. As Community Manager, Shaffer coordinates such programming, allowing Elites to get out and support their local communities in person.

The Elite Influence

Yelp Elites have a trustworthy voice that provides honest opinions to the overall Yelp Community. Kate Schultz, a graduate student at Northwestern University, has been Yelping since 2006. She says being Yelp Elite is “a little like being verified on Twitter. It carries more weight and authenticity.” 

For Elites, one of the most important aspects of writing reviews is providing constructive feedback when necessary. Emily Sopt, who is from Skokie, Illinois, has been on Yelp since 2007. She recently became a Yelp Elite in 2019. Sopt says she is as honest as possible in her reviews, since people don't want things "sugar coated."

“Not every place is going to get four or five stars; that’s unrealistic," Sopt says. "You have to understand that these smaller businesses are usually new businesses. They are working out the kinks. If something is negative, it’s criticism that can help them."

The Importance of Reviews

While there is no magical formula for writing a proper Yelp review, there are a few standard areas that Elites like to touch on. Food quality, service, ambience and any particular make-or-break moments are all important aspects to include in order to convey the entirety of a dining experience.

“If I have a great experience at a business or restaurant, I want my followers to be convinced to go there and help spread the love,” says Shaffer.

Exposure is key. For many small, local restaurants that just opened, Yelp reviews are often the word-of-mouth they need to get their business off the ground. The more reviews that restaurants can accumulate, the more traffic they can pull.

Elite Events

In addition to writing holistic reviews, Elites also have the privilege of attending special events and parties. Most are hosted by newly opened restaurants in order to showcase their menu.

One particularly memorable event among Elite members was the opening of Mid Kitchen, Evanston’s newest brunch spot. According to Shaffer, the restaurant graciously opened its doors to Yelp Elites in February, cooking members a three-hour, nine-course dinner that featured off-the-menu native, Turkish dishes.

“This gave Mid Kitchen the chance to mingle with Elites and tell their personal business story in a really personal setting to our most influential Yelpers," Shaffer recalls. "The night was magical and unforgettable."

The Mid Kitchen event stood out to other members of the Elite squad as well.

“Angela did a fantastic job at that event," recalls Sopt. "We all got assigned seats, and it really gave us a chance to meet other Yelpers that you would have never met before,”

Sopt also said that Elite events "push you out of your comfort zone" and gives you access to an "unbelievable" meal. She said she still thinks about the dishes she enjoyed at Mid Kitchen.

Making a Positive Impact on The Community

Through the various perks and opportunities provided to them, Yelp Elites have real power to help local restaurants and businesses grow. While a lot of this power is manifested in reviews surrounding the food community, the positive influence Yelp Elites have on the North Shore community doesn’t stop at food.

Elaine Mickel, a long-term Yelp Elite residing in Highland Park, recalls one day in particular where she truly felt like she had a positive impact on her local community. One day after a thunderstorm, Mickel remembers receiving help from a young individual with his own tree-service business that helped her when the neighborhood electricity was down.

“I called him and he came right away," says Mickel. "It feels so good to be able to write a five-star review for a guy like that who is trying to get his business going and off the ground.”

Creating a Sense of Togetherness

Communal support isn’t a one-way street. Just as Elites are able to help local restaurants and businesses, members of the Elite squad cherish the moments they get to spend together. They believe that the support they give is mutually reciprocated.

“Us Elite members can sit us down at a table, swap favorite restaurants, and talk about food for three hours straight, non-stop,” says Sopt.

Schultz was a member of the Yelp Chicago community before joining Yelp North Shore. She highlights the North Shore community’s unique ability to bring familiar faces together.

“It’s more of a close knit community on the North Shore,” Schultz says. “I’ve gained the opportunity to try things that I wouldn’t otherwise necessarily try and meet people I never would have met before.

Magic Community Managers

In addition to bringing members of the community together, one of the defining aspects that separates the North Shore community from the greater Chicago area is its Community Managers. Elites agree that Shaffer plays a critical role in shaping the friendly dynamic of the North Shore community by organizing events that are fun and inclusive.

“I’m presented with an incredible opportunity to come up with ways in which Yelp can help improve the daily lives of each one of these busy individuals,” says Shaffer.

Food + Yelp = Bonds Formed

According to Shaffer, the diversity of the North Shore community is what makes it special. With a community of college students, young professionals, parents and empty-nesters, Shaffer is able to bring members of the community together who share a love for food and for Yelp

“I got sucked into this huge new community of people I didn’t even know existed,” says Sopt. “Before becoming Yelp Elite, I had only been experiencing about 10% of what Yelp really was.”

The strong connections and friendships formed within the North Shore community doesn't stop with the food industry. While Elites can certainly bond over their favorite cuisines and desserts, Shaffer agrees that the North Shore community extends well-beyond a love for food.

“I’ve experienced life right alongside these amazing individuals," Shaffer says. "Yelpers are just like you and me. I’ve seen them graduate and go through many stages of their lives."