Bartenders Should Shush People

Bartenders Should Shush People

I like a quiet bar. I have since I was 21. This isn’t an unusual desire; any time I’m at a bar past eight o’clock, someone (sometimes it’s not even me!) eventually says “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. The bar got so loud!” Even the quietest dive fills up now and then with people shouting to be heard, when each person individually wishes the place were quieter. Why, as a culture, have we failed to find a way out of this loudness war? Why are most bars so bloody loud?

As my colleague Kelly Stout recently noted at Deadspin, it only takes one person to make the whole place louder. And once that happens, it’s extremely hard to quiet the place down again.

Even if one whole group of patrons quiets down, the whispering isn’t nearly as viral as the shouting. Quieting down takes an active command directed at the whole establishment. And only the most officious bar patron would have the nerve to ask all their fellow patrons to quiet down. The solution, then, lies with the bar’s staff. At any bar that isn’t actively cultivating a rager atmosphere, the staff should be shushing the customers.

The bartender is the only person in the place whom everyone must obey. While the owner can set policy, it’s the bartender who makes the decisions on the ground: who gets served first, who gets the good pours, who gets cut off. The bartender is the only one who can claim the authority to set the volume level. The bartender gives and the bartender takes, so the bartender will be obeyed.

Like the . And it works. Everyone in the place settles down to a whisper. I’ve heard it happen many times, and most everyone enjoys it.

They recognised the shushing as friendly, not chastising, a necessary check on an innocent human failing. Burp Castle has a 4-star Yelp rating and is, of course, my favourite bar. A few friends chafe at the shushing; they’re still my friends, but I’ve learned something about them.

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This is, I’ll grant, a somewhat extreme and idealised example. Burp Castle only seats a couple dozen people, mostly at tables of two or three. It’s a beer-only bar, which encourages slower alcohol consumption, and it serves only a small craft selection, which encourages patrons to sip thoughtfully (or at least pretentiously) and empowers its bartenders as counsellors and beer sommeliers.

The music is sometimes jazz, sometimes actual Gregorian chants. The walls are covered in murals of monks behaving badly. Fine, it’s a theme bar. Everything about the place supports the shush gimmick.

But there are plenty of classic bars, heavy on the beer and the natural wood, where the occasional shush wouldn’t feel out of place. Wine bars, high-quality liquor bars, bars with multiple hokey signs about not pissing off the staff — all bars where the bartender/patron relationship gives off a whiff of the dom/sub — are ready for the shush. It’d work great in performatively secretive “speakeasies” and give those places some reason to exist beyond pretending Prohibition wasn’t repealed.

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The level of noise that triggers a shush will vary from bar to bar. In some places the shush will be a bell, or a word, or hell, an ear-shattering airhorn that scares the noise right out of people.

And obviously, obviously not every bar should have the shush. Some places are meant to be rowdy. Maybe we’ll find that the ideal percentage of bars that shush is 90 per cent — maybe it’s just 10 per cent. But it’s absolutely more than one.


  • In Australia (uniquely AFAICT), there is an impulse to play music too loudly in all drinking venues. Conversation is replaced by shouting or quizzical head shakes. Half the time, it seems like it’s the bartender’s wanna-be-a-DJ personal music preferences that are causing the problem.

  • not sure if this is an american article but in an aussie pub if you told some people to “shush” you’d be met with a lot of agro and no bartender wants to deal with that. You’ll probably get the old “I’m paying your wages right now!” and if any bartenders or any front of house workers really ever get told that you simply say… “If you weren’t here right now I’d still be getting paid…” I’m yet to here a decent comeback to that. The article does get some of it right though. the boss might call the shots but on the night of the bartender should be treated with respect because you don’t even need to be drunk for me to refuse service to you, in fact I don’t even need a reason at all to refuse service to ANYONE.
    TLDR: be nice to your bartender 🙂

    • I think the general advice is dont piss off the people serving your food or drinks.

    • Depends on the type of bar. We do have lounge bars or hotel bars even in Australia that are a bit more subdued than your typical “we’re here to get shitfaced” pub. I don’t really care about the noise in a pub, but if you were going to a lounge bar it’s to relax and have a *quiet* drink.

  • Most eating and drinking establishments have far too many hard reflective surfaces and insufficient acoustically absorptive surfaces. These places are simply too reverberant. Once a few people start talking, the well known “cocktail party effect” comes into play and that’s the end of that.

    Shushing it seems might only work in snobby establishments.

  • Why are most bars so bloody loud?

    It’s a largish (or sometimes smallish) room filled with people drinking alcohol and you’re seriously wondering why the place gets loud?

    • I was going to say this myself. Alcohol removes inhibitions so people get loud because they think anything they have to say is worth saying, regardless of whether other people are talking.

      I have the same problems with my neighbours at 3am. They come home pissed and start talking which is fine, until someone decides they absolutely have to say something even though someone else is speaking. Then the volume just gets louder and louder until they literally (and I do mean literally) shouting at each other.

  • Loud music causes you to drink more, less conversation and more drinking means better profits for bars. Google it!

  • I like the sentiment but your argument fails on the UBI. No where in the world has the UBI been trialled. UBI-like trials exist but until it is Universal (nationwide), it is not a UBI.

    I agree with quieter bars etc and some of the suggested methods. I agree with the premise and conclusion. I disagree with the specific argument cited above.

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