Explaining the Phrase ‘First Come, First Serve’

The English language is full of different expressions that you can use to try and, well, express what you’re feeling or what you’re trying to convey. As such, it’s important that you have at least a basic knowledge of these different phrases and expressions to add flavor to whatever you’re saying or writing. One common expression that’s constantly used is “First Come, First Serve,” which is sometimes even shortened to FCFS.

In this article, we’ll deep-dive into this expression, explain its origins, and even provide some examples to help you better understand.


According to reliable sources like the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the idiom ‘first come, first serve’ is used when someone wants to inform other people that those who arrive early or first will also be served or treated first before those who arrive after. The phrase also has variants, such as ‘first come, first served,’  and ‘first-come, first-serve.’ Using these variants completely depends on the context and sentence you’re trying to say.

This phrase is commonly used as a service policy, which is why you’ll usually hear this being said in restaurants or shops. Clients are essentially attended to depending on who arrived first and not on favoritism or social status. For instance, it’s always a major event whenever Apple releases new products. So, on the products’ day of release, you can expect to find a long line of people waiting for their turn to enter the Apple store.

In this case, the selling of Apple products follows a first-come, first-serve basis. Those who arrived at the site first and are at the beginning of the line will be able to enter the store first and browse the different products. Those who arrived later will have to stand in line, and for quite a while too, depending on how far back they are or how long the wait is. The same goes for most events, restaurants, stores, etc. This policy is the standard in most countries, especially when there’s a queue for people who didn’t book or schedule a service in advance.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Where Did the Phrase Come From?

The concept of first come, first serve goes a long way back—as far as the 14th century, to be exact. The phrase, or at least the concept of the phrase, was first noticed in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale. There, you’ll see a saying that goes: “Whoso first cometh to the mill, first grist.” Other than that, Erasmus also cited this saying as a proverb. It wasn’t until the 1500s that the phrase changed and transformed into the expressions we know and use today, with Henry Brinklow’s Complaynt of Roderick Mors from 1545 featuring the phrase ‘first come, first serve.’

Usage Examples

Now that you know what ‘first come, first served’ means, here are a few examples:

  • The tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, so you better wake up early tomorrow!
  • If you want a good seat at the event, then you need to be there early. It’s first-come, first-served.
  • There are only a few freebies available, and they will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.


We hope that after reading this article, you’ll be using ‘first come, serve’ more often during your day-to-day conversations.