What Does First Come First Served Mean?

First Come First Served Meaning

Definition: The first people to arrive will be the first people to receive service.

A similar expression is the early bird catches the worm. It is a proverb that teaches the prompt get first choice.

Origin of First Come, First Served

People typically use this expression to show that there is not enough of something for everyone, so the first people to show up will receive the thing until it runs out. It isn’t possible to reserve a spot in advance. This idea dates back very far in history.

We see the first uses of it in English in the 14th century by Chaucer. In The Wife of Bath’s Tale,

  • Whoso first cometh to the mill, first grist.

The phrase was also cited as a proverb by Erasmus.

It took until the 1500s for the expression to appear exactly how we use it today. Henry Brinklow’s Complaynt of Roderick Mors from about 1545 uses the phrase as we now do today.

Some people pronounce this expression as first come first serve, dropping the final d from the idiom. However, the correct spelling should contain the d.

Examples of First Come, First Served

first come first serve camping In this example, two sisters are preparing for Black Friday.

Amy: Maybe we should just stay home. We could call the stores and ask them to hold the merchandise we’re interested in for tomorrow.

Kimberly: That will never work. You don’t understand the idea of Black Friday. All these great deals are only available on a first come first served basis. That’s what makes it so competitive. If anyone could just call and reserve the thing they wanted, no one would have any incentive to come to the store and be tempted to buy all the other things.

Amy: Okay. I guess you’re right. So if we have to get there first we’ll have to get there a few hours before they open.

Kimberly: Or even the night before.

first come first serve or servedIn the second example, two friends are talking about the premiere of a movie they are really excited to see.

Keira: I can’t believe the second installment of our favorite film franchise is coming out tomorrow! Did you reserve the tickets already?

Rory: I tried online, and I even called the theater, but I had no luck. They said that the tickets are being sold on a first come first served basis.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a county that plans on selling its extra equipment.

  • During the board’s Nov. 14 meeting, the commissioners voted to sell the surplus items on a first-come-first-serve basis with the county clerk’s office facilitating the sales. –Seward Independent

This excerpt is about a holiday party.

  • Children can spend the day with Mrs. Claus building their own gingerbread house with graham crackers and decorating it with icing and delicious candy. The event is available on a first come first serve basis. –Houston Chronicle

Summary

The expression first come first served means people will get objects or services in order of arrival, until resources or time runs out.