Meeting people at bars — who are we kidding? (just ourselves)

Kristen Berman
The Social Alchemists
2 min readJun 1, 2016


Bars have gotten creative about many things. There are bars with snappy bartenders. A special sour whiskey drink. A secret entrance or 80’s music theme.

However most bars have not innovated on the very thing that they are theoretically designed to do — bring people together. With few exceptions, bars have maintained the same look/feel and business model that was present in the salon days of the wild west.

Is this model working?

Well, we go to bars — a lot. In a survey of 80 people, run by Social Observatory, we found that 30% of people except to go to a bar in the upcoming weekend.

This is a large number. 20% of Americans expect to go to Church on Sundays. 30% of Americans at bars is an astounding percentage of our population coordinating around one activity over the weekend.

Pre-Bar: Low expectations of (new) human interaction

In a survey the Social Observatory conducted on Google Consumer, people said they go to bars to “catch up with friends”, “drink” and “watch sports”. Less than 10% of the people combined say the reason they go to bars is to “meet new friends”, “hook up with someone” or “find someone to marry”.

In fact, when asked about the likelihood of meeting someone new on a given a weekend, only 20% of people said it’s highly likely. Even less (13%) had high confidence that they would exchange numbers with someone new.

If the purpose of a bar is to meet someone new, then it seems like these social institutions are consistently and predictably failing us.

At the Bar: (Too) high expectations

One Friday night the Social Observatory posee stationed ourselves at a bar in SOMA. Surveying entrants, we found that people have higher expectations of social interaction in the moment then sitting on their computers at home. Wishful thinking? Most likely.

Most people who walked in consented to our survey ( “it’s for science!!!!!” we cried desperately). These people indicated they expected to meet 2.5 new people on average! Of course, our data showed expectations were not met. They only met 0.5 people.

Bars: Our favorite whipping boy

The Social Observatory resolves to tirelessly beat up on bars for their underwhelming social secret sauce and refusal to innovate. Watch this space for more experimentation on what it would take to build a better bar and some data to back it up.

Until next time, keep talking quietly in the corner to the people you came with until someone starts yawning and you all decide to leave and get a taco.





Kristen Berman
The Social Alchemists

Thinking about Irrationality. Behavioral Scientist. Co-founder of Irrational Labs and Common Cents Lab.