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Blog: Bill Main FCSI on how to implement The Rule of Three

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The Rule of Three can be an impactful technique that enhances how we communicate with our customers and, when used effectively, it can help boost profits too, says Bill Main FCSI

The Rule of Three is a powerful, interactive technique, approach or principle used to maximize the effect communications have on people in writing, speaking or communicating.

It states that: “any ideas, thoughts, events, characters or sentences that are presented in threes are more effective and memorable.” 

Generally, in responding to a problematic question, particularly relating to written (email, voicemail or text) using The Rule of Three can be a very effective strategy for delaying, deferring, or avoiding a difficult decision.

Within human interactions, The Rule of Three in its simplest possible expression, the answer is Yes, the answer is No, or the answer is Ignore completely.

Consider a young couple have a first date. The woman is not interested in a second date, but doesn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings. She has previously shared her email or text addresses with him. She simply ignores him, hoping he will get the message she is not interested, but has not hurt his feelings by saying so directly.

He (then) calls or emails her the next day in hope of date number two. She ignores the outreach, understanding that she can claim “she didn’t get the messages”. In other words, “Ignore completely”!

The Rule of Three in action

Consider the inherently “interactive” aspect of the typical restaurant/foodservice environment: main entryway, hostess station, and seating/counter areas, whether in cafeterias, airports, fast casual or full-service. That’s billions and billions of interactions worldwide every year.

The Rule of Three is directly associated with presenting the guest or visitor three options in their discretionary thinking process. Simply put, two options is not enough and four options is too many…the brain is wired to easily assimilate three choices.

The best example I can offer is the so-called “daily specials” that have been a cornerstone of full-service menus for hundreds of years. In my 30+ years of owning and operating my own seafood restaurant on the California coast, the first question all guests would ask is “what is your fresh fish offering today” as they looked out the window at the commercial fishing fleet that went out in the ocean every morning and caught fresh fish for the market.

Often times, the fisherman would have many, many types of fresh fish caught that morning; salmon, halibut, ling Cod, rockfish, albacore, and on and on.

The Rule of Three became our server discipline and started in the kitchen: Only offer (three) fresh fish choices in the selling narrative (not the specials blackboard, which might have many more) because four or five was too many for the guest to process (remember) in the initial interaction..thus we initially offered (three) different types of fresh fish – maybe salmon, halibut and ling cod.

And, surprisingly I’m sure, we calculated the gross profit on each fresh fish offered, because we learned that the guest that wants fresh fish will order the first fish mentioned nearly 50% of the time, the second fish mentioned 40% of the time, and the third fish mentioned 10% of the time.

Thus, the highest gross profit offering was presented first, the second highest second, and so forth.

Inasmuch as fresh salmon is available at Safeway, and likely its biggest seller, it may be is less exciting than maybe a more exotic halibut, albacore, ling cod or monkfish.

The Rule of Three applies to everything in life’s interactions. Two choices is not enough, and four choices is too many.

Bill Main FCSI