New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Why NYU students are obsessed with the Beli app — and why you should be too

This restaurant ranking app has taken over the New York City food scene, and NYU students have eagerly taken a bite at it.
Qianshan Weng
Beli invites its users to log and rate spots they’ve dined at, and generates recommendations based on their preferences. (Qianshan Weng for WSN)

It’s late on a Friday night. You and your friends are trying to decide where to eat, but the discussion is running in circles. Everyone insists that they’re “down to eat wherever” despite the unspoken mutual understanding that most people actually do have a preference. Enter Beli — the up-and-coming restaurant-ranking app revolutionizing restaurant culture, shining a spotlight on both interaction and individuality.

Since its launch in July of 2021, Beli’s popularity has blossomed within New York City’s foodie scene, and NYU students have gotten in on the hype. The restaurant-ranking app invites its users to log and rate spots they’ve dined at, and generates recommendations based on individual users’ documented preferences. Doubling as a social media app, Beli allows users to follow friends and check out public reviews. 

Co-founders Judy Thelen and Eliot Frost had been developing Beli since 2019 and launched it two years later following a pandemic-induced delay. In an interview with WSN, Thelen and Frost recounted how the Beli idea came to fruition.

“We built Beli because we’re obsessed with food,” Thelen explained. “What we quickly realized is that [in] Gen Z, there was a massive appetite for something like this, which was super cool.”

As fellow food-lovers, Thelen and Frost bonded over the joy of trying new restaurants, but they always wanted a more organized way to track their likings and dining histories.

“We like to think that we’re challenging the idea that there’s a right answer about restaurants,” Frost said. “We really like the idea that people should be proud of their own tastes and not feel like they’re going to be judged.”

Users can customize their restaurant entries, with the option to add written notes, indicate favorite dishes, select category tags and attach pictures to their reviews. Instead of a generalized rating from all Beli users, the app provides two scores per restaurant: a “Rec Score” — Beli’s prediction of your liking — and a “Friend Score” — what your friends on the app thought of the restaurant. 

While Beli has a number of features for individual users, the app has also introduced features to promote community engagement among its users. Among these features is the Dining Hall of Fame competition, which, with 187 participating American universities, intends to find the “foodiest university.” Students who’ve registered their profiles with a given university can earn points for their school by ranking restaurants and referring new members. In recent weeks, NYU lost its second place standing to Rice University, and is now in third place. The University of Chicago currently holds the No. 1 spot.

NYU senior Meredith McBride, who works as a Beli business analyst intern, played a big role in creating the Dining Hall of Fame competition.

“[Beli is] definitely extremely growing in popularity,” McBride said. “I’ve worked a lot on organizing a big database of the social media and keeping up so that we don’t lose any of that content.” 

In the fall of 2021, McBride was one of several college ambassadors for Beli, providing insight into potential developments for the app. Now, users can connect Beli to their school IDs and join college-based leaderboards.

NYU sophomore Yolanda Guo is an avid user of Beli and was on a 27-week streak of Beli rankings at the time of her interview with WSN. 

“Clearly, the app has [kind of] got me addicted to the NYC food scene,” Guo said. 

NYU senior Kaya Trefz has been a Beli user for a year now and has come to appreciate the app’s ability to foster community.

“It was like a communal activity,” said Trefz, recalling her experience using Beli with a friend. “I think everyone can bond over food.”

With cataloging apps like Letterboxd for film and Goodreads for books rising in popularity among college students, it’s no secret that we all have a fondness for documenting our favorite things and showing them off to the world. So while Tisch students may have Letterboxd to foster their community of film lovers, if you’re an NYU student with a passion for food and bragging about how many restaurants you’ve tried, call Beli your new hobby. 

Contact Lauren Ng at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Qianshan Weng
Qianshan Weng, Multimedia Editor
Qianshan Weng is a junior studying Media, Culture and Communication and Journalism. You may pronounce his name as "chi''en-shan", or, if it makes your life easier, just call him "Ben." He grew up in Shenzhen, China, and has spent the last five years or so saying that he wants to learn Cantonese. The answers to the questions "when will he finally start?" and "why is this taking him so long?" remain mysteries, even to himself. You can reach out to him at [email protected]

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