For a long while, Yelp has been my go-to tool for finding good restaurants while traveling. Now I'm using it locally as well, because there's financial incentive to do so.
Yelp Cash Back pays you back a percentage -- up to 10 percent, which is not nothing -- of your meal price when you visit a participating restaurant. It's a remarkably easy program to use, and kind of crazy not to use -- if the conditions are right.
How do I get started?
It works like this: Using your existing Yelp account, you link one or more credit cards to that account. Then, when you visit a restaurant that participates in the Yelp Cash Back program and use one of those cards to pay for your food, you'll automatically receive a rebate in the form of credit issued back to the card. Yelp pays out monthly.
This is a bit different than a cash-back service like Ebates, which operates via an online portal and works mostly with stores, not restaurants. Here, there's nothing you have to do before or after your restaurant visit; you don't even have to check in with the Yelp app.
Indeed, if you've ever used a Discover card or any other that pays you back a percentage of your purchases, same deal here -- except Yelp works with any credit card you link.
It does not, however, work with all restaurants.
Finding cheap eats
Once you're enrolled, the Yelp app will display a green "Cash Back" label on restaurant listings. So, for example, if you tap Nearby and then Restaurants, just scan the list for that label.
If you want to see only those restaurants offering cash back, tap the Filter option, scroll down and toggle Cash Back to "on," then tap Search. (You can also scroll across the Filter bar up top and just enable the Cash Back option there.)
In my area -- the outskirts of Detroit suburbia -- I found a smattering of places that offer cash back. And they ran the gamut from little diners to fancy steakhouses.
However, although Yelp promises "up to 10 percent," every single restaurant in my area listed a 7 percent rebate. I then expanded my search to the greater Detroit area; same result. Then I checked downtown Chicago and did find a few places offering 10 percent -- but the vast majority were at 7 percent, same as here.
That's not a criticism, because it's still money you wouldn't have received back otherwise. And it adds up: If you eat at one cash-back restaurant per week, you might get back $10-$20 at the end of a month -- nothing to sneeze at.
You might be able to double-dip, too, if your credit card already gives you points for purchases. Depending on the program, your 7 percent from Yelp might turn into 8 or 9 percent when all is said and done.
What's the catch?
Aside from having to give your credit card number to yet another online service, you must be willing to sacrifice a bit of privacy in exchange for using Yelp Cash Back.
Indeed, it works like virtually all other cash-back services in that it "may view your transactions, as well as historical transactions, made by you with participating merchants." As you should when signing up for anything online, free or otherwise, review the terms of service first.
The real question is whether the prospect of cash back is enough to steer you into a restaurant you might otherwise ignore. Your thoughts?