Making Yelp your Best Friend

How to Use Yelp to its fullest capacity

by Jillian O’Farrell

My brother and I have a fun, slightly compulsive, routine when eating at a restaurant we’ve never been to before.


First, we skim the menu, looking for what sounds good. Once we’ve identified our potential orders, we pull up the restaurant’s Yelp page to browse the photos, confirming the dishes look as good as they sound; sometimes a different dish catches our eye and makes us reconsider our choices. Finally, we turn to the reviews.


Yelp reviews can be a slippery slope; aside from some amateur restaurant critics, most people only write reviews after an extremely positive or negative experience. With this in mind, we check what other restaurant-goers have to say about our potential orders—the final act of reassurance.


This protocol evolved from me and my brother’s desire for the perfect dining experience. My frequent navigation of Yelp means I’ve learned how to maximize what the website has to offer. Yelp is a brilliant resource, and here’s how to unlock its beauty.


Curate Collections and Bookmarks

When searching on Yelp, you will often find restaurants that pique your interest, but may not make sense for the current occasion. The best way to keep track of these want-to-try places is through Yelp’s Bookmark and Collections feature.


As you browse, you can bookmark any Yelp page by selecting the ‘Save’ button under the business’s name. You can then sort your Bookmarks into categories, under the ‘Collections’ tab. Create lists that you can easily refer back to: by cuisine, dining experience (casual or up-scale), or location—whatever works best for you. Then, the next time you’re looking for a place to eat, check your Collections before conducting a new search.


Browse Others’ Collections

Users can choose to make their Collections public for others to view and follow.

Under the Collections tab, you can browse Featured Collections in your area, and Suggested Collections based on your own search and bookmark history. You can follow lists particularly appealing to you, or find restaurants to add to your own lists. If you’re looking for a place to start, try exploring Best Cafes to Do Work in Boston by Coco C. or Popular Date Spots in Boston by Damien S.


COVID-19 Policies

Almost two years after initial pandemic shutdowns, many restaurants still operate with limited hours and seating availability. Usually, you can call the business for this information, but Yelp can also act as a resource.


Under the restaurant's hours, Yelp shows when the information was last updated—anything within the last two months has a good chance of being accurate. Recent reviews can also provide clues for changes in dining experience, mask/vaccination requirements, and, if you’re lucky, photos of the restaurant’s current set-up.


Find More than Restaurants

Yelp isn’t just for food; it can help you connect with any local business. Their database includes services from dentists, to auto repair shops, to accountants—I found my exterminator on Yelp.


For the most part, you can utilize this vastness to find new activities, such as thrift stores, seasonal flea and farmers’ markets, smaller music venues, and public art installations. With a quick search, you’ll find information on pottery painting at The Clayroom in Coolidge Corner, a pop-up photo experience called Go Pixel Yourself in East Cambridge, SoWa Open Market in the South End, and so much more. I recently learned through Yelp that Boston University’s Coit Observatory hosts free Open Nights on Wednesdays—I didn’t even know BU had an observatory.


Boston has so much to offer, but determining where to start or where to spend your money can feel overwhelming. Learning to make Yelp your best friend will make Boston’s restaurant and social scene far more approachable—dare I say, even digestible.