Please don’t be That Guy on Yelp

According to my Yelp profile, I am on my second year of being Elite in the Washington, D.C., area. I like Yelp because it combines two of my favorite things: writing and dining out. While I use Yelp mainly for fun and to keep track of where I’ve been, I understand that it carries weight in many places.

I always write my reviews in good faith, and I’ve written them for a number of popular D.C.-area restaurants (including Rasika, Graffiato, Jaleo and Founding Farmers), as well as places in Kansas City, Boston, the UK and Paris. I try to write them as soon as possible after my experience, so the information is fresh and accurate.

Attempting to leverage my so-called Elite status to get additional swag, whether it be perks, better service or freebies, has never crossed my mind. For one thing, I can’t imagine the inflated sense of self-worth necessary to do that. For another, I’m still a journalist who believes, like any good professional critic, that a review is only worthwhile if you’re treated like everyone else. For a third, I’m not a scummy human being.

Jezebel today shared a story about a guy who’s setting up a business plan that revolves around, more or less, extorting businesses based on him being a reviewer for sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. (The original Los Angeles Times stories is behind a paywall, sorry!) He’s distributing the “ReviewerCard,” the idea being that if you flash it and promise to give a good review, businesses will offer discounts, extras and the like. He brags about getting discounted hotel rates by promising to give a good review — the logical conclusion and underlying threat, real or not, being that if he doesn’t get preferential treatment, he’ll write a bad review. The actual quality of the business does not seem to play a role in his reviews; it’s what he can get out of it for himself.

After reading the story, I mostly hoped that Yelp would catch wind of it and disable his account. Professional critics take great pains to avoid being recognized or getting preferential treatment, because they want their experience to mirror that of a regular person’s as much as possible. The idea of New York Times or Washington Post writers telling the hostess that they’re critics, so that fromage plate better be on the house if you know what I mean, is unfathomable. What this guy is selling as “win-win” is really just him being greedy.

Enjoy sites like Yelp for what they are — something that is supposed to be fun, informative and social. Don’t be a tacky egotist who believes that being Elite entitles you to $25 off your bill or whatever.

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A Life in Coffee Shops

I currently hold a Level 7 Fresh Brew badge on Foursquare. That’s 30 different coffee shops, 30 different venues for leisurely chats with friends, afternoons reading the paper, quick pit stops before catching a flight or caffeine acquisitions before work. In a probably-not-unrelated note, I reached gold-card status at Starbucks earlier this week.

I frequent the Starbucks in Rosslyn, Va., a few times a week, primarily because it’s close to work, inoffensive and predictable. On my own time, though, I patronize locally owned places. There a few that I love in D.C.:

1. Qualia, a neighborhood gem in Petworth that roasts and grinds its own beans and toasts your croissant for you. Sipping a cold latte out on the back patio on a hot day makes me feel like I could do anything. Earlier this week, when I needed a break from non-stop fiscal cliff updates with work, I went to Qualia.

2. Chinatown Coffee on H Street, a utilitarian oasis of hard floors and spare tables and a long bar. I’ve met friends here, and I’ve simply snagged a table and read the news. The 7th Street pandemonium is only a few minutes’ walk away, but you’d never know it.

3. Peregrine Espresso; I’ve been to its Eastern Market cafe and its Union Market counter. No fuss, quick and efficient and potent. It’s a superb quickie in between shopping stops, owned by a husband-and-wife pair.

Each place serves a different function. I go to Qualia to unwind, Chinatown Coffee to socialize and Peregrine for the pick-me-up-and-go. I vividly remember my first experience with each and I anticipate being a regular at all three for as long as I’m a Washingtonian.

Coffee shops, whether independent ones or chains like Starbucks, seem to be compartmentalized: They’re either homogenous big-box stores, or annoyingly twee. I love these three because they avoid falling into either trap. They offer moments of rest, sanity and, yes, sweet sweet caffeine when I need them the most. And for that, I’ll hold onto them always.

Welcome to 2013

I have, unfortunately, been delinquent at practicing my own writing while editing the writing of others. Shame on me. Right now, I’m taking a break in between holiday on-call shifts, posting news and updates about the dreaded fiscal cliff. I fluctuate between thinking that what I’m doing is important, and wanting to never, ever hear or see the phrase “fiscal cliff” again.

I will not miss 2012, or at least, I won’t yearn for it the way I still do 2011. The second half of it, at least, was exciting and interesting and challenging: moving to a new city, meeting new people and starting a job I love. But that just leads to a continuation of that in the new year.

I already have a lot planned for 2013. I’m celebrating my birthday a week late, when my best friend comes to visit and I expose her to the awesomeness that is The Passenger’s cocktail menu and Founding Farmers’ brunch. Sometime in late February, if the weather isn’t atrocious, I’m planning another long weekend in Boston. I’m playing restaurant hostess for my parents again in late March, and hoping to visit Europe again (I’m thinking Stockholm) in June. And of course I’m hoping to see how POLITICO Pro keeps on trucking and growing, and maybe try my hand at some reporting.

I feel like I’ve grown up a lot in the last few months, and I’m hoping to spend enough time in Washington to feel settled. Since I graduated high school, I’ve never stayed more than a year in the same place (although England the last time was about 14 months all told), and I’m at a point where I want to just stay still for a while.

So that’s where I am now — working and still getting the hang of a truly wonky city. Stay tuned.