Fact or Fiction: the myth behind the 3 second rule

It’s is 8 pm on a Saturday night and the restaurant is booked. The buzz of the dining room fills the air as a small platoon of wait staff hustle through the crowd delivering the chefs nightly offerings.Kichen pic 3 Pungent aromas of garlic, herbs, and truffles entice the senses as order after order is put through to the tiny kitchen with its motley crew of culinary renegades. To the dismay of the sauté cook, one of the waiters has forgotten to order an entree for his table. Accompanied by an audible grumble the cook quickly fires the dish as the general manager enters the kitchen to announce a VIP table that has just sat down in section 3. By now the kitchen is humming like a well oiled machine, putting out dish after dish of impeccable cuisine, but alas, catastrophe has a way of showing up at the most inopportune times. The rhythm of the line is quickly thrown off as the cold station cook slices his index finger while cutting into a blood orange. The expediter quickly jumps in to finish off the salads while the cook attends to his injury. Plates are now starting to get backed up in the window and ticket times are beginning to become long. This makes both the wait staff and the guest restless. Just then Murphy’s Law kicks in. In his haste to alleviate the back up at his station, the sauté cook hastily turns to grab the aluminum sauté pan containing the persillade crusted sea bass without grabbing his side towel. The cook lets out a high pitch yelp followed by his favorite explicative, and consequently drops the pan and its prize on the floor.

Now here is where the mythical “3 second rule might be used”. A rule that basically allows a cook to pick up the food and serve it, as long as the cook can get the item off the floor within 3 seconds. Now the obvious reaction to this is “ewww gross”, but I would like to ask, is there such a thing as a 3 second rule, and does it exist? Would a cook actually pick the sea bass up off the floor and serve it? Before you answer, let’s add a few more details to this precocious situation.

Kitchen pic 2 First, the table waiting for the Sea Bass has been waiting for over 30 minutes due to the error of the server forgetting to put the order thru to the kitchen. So now if the cook re-fires the dish the table will have to wait at least another 15 minutes, on top of the 30 minutes they have already waited. Second, this restaurant is a typical white table cloth eatery that charges a hefty price for their menu. Because of this the diners expect to get their food on time and be wowed at the same time. Third and maybe the most important fact is that it is human nature to take the path with the least resistance. In this situation it would be much easier for the cook to just pick the fish up, clean it, then plate it. Now that you know this, do you think you have ever been a victim of this culinary myth?

If this is a legitimate restaurant with a strong culinary leader, the cook should own up to his failure, plunge his hand in some ice, and re-fire the dish. A good expo, usually the chef, will send out some quick offerings to appease the diners. And if he can, he will hand deliver these dishes. If the diners feel that they are getting special service, they won’t even notice the length of time between courses. I would have to say that there are probably plenty of restaurants out there that do indeed have employees that would use the 3 second rule. These establishments are usually identified by inconsistency, poor hygiene, and a general lack of integrity. Now what’s for dinner…