The tyranny of beer choice

Man walks into a bar. There are thirty different draught beers. He knows some of them and loves to drink them. He's heard of others and has always wanted to try them. A few are new to him and look appealing.

After five minutes he leaves the bar without buying a beer, frustrated by his inability to choose. He goes next door to a pub.

The pub sells two draught beers; one he loves, one he'd love to try. Buy he's still thinking about the range of beers in the bar. He's regretting not choosing one. He still doesn't know which one he'd choose. All he knows is that he now doesn't want either of the two beers on offer in this pub. He leaves, disappointed. But not sure why he feels that way.

He seeks solace in a tied pub owned by one of his favourite brewers. They only serve one beer. He orders a pint and retreats to a quiet corner. As the glass reaches his lips, he thinks of the beers on offer in the other pub. He regrets not having a choice of beer here.

He feels bitter. Even though he hasn't even drank a beer.

In 'The Tyranny Of Choice', psychologist Barry Schwartz suggests that even though choice is "unambiguously a good thing" and that some choice is good it doesn't mean that more choice is better.

When does the thrill of seemingly-endless tap handles turn to apprehension? When does anticipation turn to doubt? When does an eventual choice at the bar run the risk of turning later to remorse? Or guilt?

What is the sweet-spot number of options? When is 'good enough' actually good enough?

If you're interested in learning more about Schwartz and the tyranny / paradox of choice, try these; featured on BBC Business Daily, his TED talk from 2005 and his Google TechTalk from 2006


  1. In beer, there can never be too much choice.

  2. Your man ought to make his fucking mind up!

  3. it's all relative to the sophistication of the customer.

    always think you should be notionally 'one step beyond' the consumer but more than that and it becomes daunting and offputting as you describe.

    trouble is not enough places even do the one step beyond thing.

    interesting post.

  4. What Tandy said. Not only is it beer but it is a handful of change, for God's sake.

  5. For the avoidance of doubt, I don't personally have a problem with choosing a beer. But having spent the morning at work listening to arguments over pricing models and perception of choice, I'm wondering if there's a point at which the number of beers on sale at a bar/club becomes counter-productive...

  6. I knew it was not you! Just arming you with retorts when next you have to hear others gripe as they wallow in their own incapacity. ;-)

  7. Aah, analysis paralysis!
    In most things, I like to have choice.
    Sometimes it's fine to have no choice or just a couple, when you'll only want to choose one, and the one or two options available are really good.
    But sometimes you know you'll stick around a while, and then a wide range of mostly / all good options is fabulous! Variety is the spice...
    For your dithering beer man, apart from wanting to slap him in the face and tell him to grow some... my thought is that, for a single quick pint on the way home, the place he ended up will no doubt suit. But for settling in for an evening, having a wide choice of different beers to try is surely a big bonus?

  8. the biggest problem with a lot of choice is that you can't always afford/ have time to try everything!