How to use the "Rule of Thirds"

The "Rule of Thirds" states, if you know who you are and hold firmly to your identity, convictions, and beliefs:

  1. One third of the people will LOVE you and your restaurant

  2. One third of the people will HATE you and your restaurant

  3. One third of the people will Have No Opinion either way, about you or your restaurant.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can’t please all the people, all the time, but you can please some of the people, most of the time”.

This quote brings me back to second grade, at Memorial school in Winooski Vermont, when Mrs. Lozon taught it to us. At the tender age of seven, I had no idea what it meant or how important it would become in my life and your life too…

Let’s take a minute to reflect on President Abraham Lincoln:

At the zenith of his presidency, on his best day in office, Abraham Lincoln was hated by 1/3 of the country, misunderstood by 1/3 of the country and LOVED by only 1/3 of the country. Through all of this adversity, Lincoln has become one of the greatest and most famous American presidents.

Love him or hate him, Abraham Lincoln knew who he was and he had the conviction to stick to his beliefs, even when his advisors (all the smart people around him) begged him not to.

President Lincoln was a GREAT president because he had the guts to make the RIGHT decision for the future of America. Even though many of his decisions were very UN-POPULAR at the time.

That is why this quote is so profound to me today, because as a restaurant owner, leader, manager and human being, I know how hard it is to go against the grain of popular opinion.

Abraham Lincoln’s Quote… “You can’t please all the people, all the time, but you can please some of the people, most of the time”. Shows us just how politically astute President Lincoln really was.

The "Rule of Thirds" states, if you know who you are and hold firmly to your identity, convictions and beliefs:

  1. One third of the people will LOVE you and your restaurant

  2. One third of the people will HATE you and your restaurant

  3. One third of the people will Have No Opinion either way, about you or your restaurant.

The Rule of Thirds is truly a matter of biblical significance. People have been using the rule of thirds for thousands of years.

It goes all the way back to the Sermon at the Mount, when Jesus delivered his longest and most profound speech to the multitudes of 5,000 people. After the speech, 1/3 of the people were totally offended and HATED what he had to say. Another 1/3 of the people had no idea what he said, they did not GET or UNDERSTAND the message - AND the last third, 1,666 people LOVED message. This 1/3 totally bought in to the message and they became the followers of Jesus.

This is the Rule of Thirds in ACTION…

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have to do or say…

  • 1/3 of the people will HATE it.

  • 1/3 of the people will not understand.

  • But 1/3 will LOVE it, Believe It, and Follow it…




Imagine what would happen if 1/3 of every customer who ever dined in your restaurant became a LOYAL follower and REPEAT CUSTOMER. I’ll tell you what would happen:


OK, Now just for fun - I’m gonna give you another example. A modern example, this one is really polarizing:

Yes, It’s DONALD TRUMP! That’s right Donald Trump…

Now, I know that about 1/3 of you – probably just threw up – I know that 1/3 of you hate Trumps guts so much that your blood pressure goes up when you hear his name or see his face.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is my entire point.

Trump epitomizes the Rule of Thirds… He throws red meat to his loyal followers, and doesn’t give a damn about the other two thirds.

Now Hear This…

This is not a political or a religious podcast. I don’t care what religion you are. I don’t care who you vote for. I don’t care if you are a republican, democrat, libertarian, socialist or communist.

Today’s podcast is about MARKETING.

While it’s true, Trump is a complete megalomaniac, he is also a master MARKETER… He has everybody in the World talking about him and that’s exactly what he wants. His buildings are selling for more money than ever before. His market 1/3 has grown from the island of Manhattan, to large US cities and today he is a global icon. All of this happened because Trump knows how to use the rule of thirds to his advantage.

Love him or hate him, Trump a great example of the "rule of thirds" in action.

CNN just had an article criticizing Trump for not being smart enough to move beyond his 1/3 base. They claim he will never win in 2020 without expanding his base. As you know everything that Trump does appeals to his THIRD, but yet he has a 45% approval rating.

HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? WHY does it work that way?

This is because the middle third, who don’t get it, are neutral, and they go with the flow… They are fickle. They just are. OK, so let me unravel this before some of you start to freak out…

Let’s imagine that we have RED PEOPLE and BLUE PEOPLE.

  • The RED people love Trump

  • The BLUE people hate Trump.

  • Then we have the GREY people in the middle, they have no opinion either way.

This means that every time Trump plays to his base, the RED people LOVE him. That means the BLUE people, the 33% of the people who hate him, will HATE him even more.

Every time they see a picture of him or he opens his mouth, they are repulsed. But here’s the thing. The 1/3 that hate him will NEVER change their mind and start to like Trump no matter what.

BUT, that leaves the 33% in the middle, the GREY people who don’t get it, don’t understand or don’t care.

If Trump has a 45% favorability rating, that means 33% for the RED people + 12 points from somewhere else. It’s seems like a safe bet to say the additional 12 points are NOT coming from the BLUE people who hate him.

That means the additional 12 points must be coming from the GREY people, the middle 33%.

Now I want you to pay attention to this next statement:

The additional 12% is coming from the middle third who don’t care or understand. That is roughly a third OF the 1/3 that don’t get it.

The middle third, the GREY people, are FICKLE, they go with the feelings of the day. The middle third can turn BLUE or RED in a moment’s notice, based on many factors. That is how Trump gets a 45% favorability rating.

Now, Let’s change the conversation and talk about YOU and Your Restaurant:

First and foremost, you always want to talk to and develop products and services for your base. The 1/3 that love you and your product – This is your MARKET!

In addition to your base…


BUT – don’t expect them to LOVE it as much as YOUR BASE does… Never allow yourself to get sucked into the trap of changing who you are to satisfy someone who doesn’t get what you are up to.


I can hear you thinking... you are thinking that you should be smarter than the Food Guru and go after the MIDDLE third. You think you can EXPAND your market to include the GREY people in the middle.

Well, Little grasshopper, I’m sorry to tell you – The Answer is NO!

NO, you cannot create a product or a marketing message that will work perfectly for 2/3 of the market without becoming a watered-down version of yourself, and alienating the 1/3 who LOVE you.

This is exactly what happened to the Outback when they went public. The fine folks on Wall Street forced them to expand their menu and appeal to a broader audience. Outback used to be a great place for a steak and a Bloomin’ Onion. Today they have so many things on their menu that their steaks are just OK and they are closing stores all across the country, and that’s a shame.

The moral of the story is:


They are too fickle, they are too hot and cold, and if you change your marketing message, you WILL alienate the people who LOVE you.

Having said that, always let the middle third, the grey people, come to you and buy your goods and services. Just don’t count on them, and don’t let them talk you into changing your message or who you are.

Why would the middle third come to us? There are many reasons:

  • Location, they are in the neighborhood.

  • Maybe their friends invited them to meet them there.

  • Maybe you put out a great discount or deal that appealed to them.

  • Maybe you caved and ran an ad that appealed to them.

  • Maybe they were just in the mood for you that day.

The goal of marketing is to create great products and services that appeal to your market. Do not worry about trying to please the people who hate you because - they are not your market. Don’t worry about the grey people in the middle, they are too fickle and you can’t count on them.

Let’s switch gears again... Let’s use my favorite restaurant example to magnify the point.

Imagine we own a burger joint and our goal is to make the World’s Best Cheeseburger.

  • Everything we do must help us make the World’s Best Cheeseburger.

  • Everything we do must help us build a great cheeseburger experience.

  • Everything we do that does not help us make a great cheeseburger will hurt us, water us down and take our eye off the goal of making the World’s Best Cheeseburger.

The World’s Best Cheeseburger joint has ONE thing – Great Cheeseburgers. There are only THREE things on our menu.

  1. Cheeseburger

  2. Fries

  3. Coke

That’s it.

A great cheeseburger will only appeal to 1/3 of the market. The 1/3 who don’t like meat or don’t like burgers will HATE our restaurant. And - as we have said about a dozen times already – 1/3 will not get it or care either way.

If we are stupid enough to try to go after the 1/3 of the market who hate the fact that we only sell cheeseburgers, we will lose our ass…

Imagine, what would happen if we try to pacify the vegetarian folks and put a Veggie Burger on the menu, what do you think will happen? I’ll tell you what will happen, we will split our focus between the World’s Best Cheeseburger and the OK Veggie Burger.

Our Cheeseburger will suffer and NOT be quite as good. We will start to lose the LOVE of the 1/3 - that loves us because we only do ONE thing.

Think about IN & OUT Burger vs McDonald’s. Have you ever seen anyone wear a McDonald’s T-Shirt out in public? I haven’t either.

My entire point is that we should NEVER change who we are and what we do. If we want more customers we should work to find MORE PEOPLE who LOVE what you do!

Here’s our marketing pitch:

We LOVE Cheeseburgers. Big fat juicy cheeseburgers! If you are into Big fat Juicy Cheeseburgers – Come hang out with us and we can eat Big Fat Juicy Cheeseburgers together.

Harley Davidson totally gets it!

Harley Davidson uses the rule of thirds to perfection. They sell motorcycles and tons of branded merchandise to people who love and embrace their bad ass, rebel lifestyle. Harley Davidson knows exactly who their customers are and they consistently deliver the customer promise to them. Harley Davidson creates customer advocates who love their brand. Some of their customers even tattoo the Harley logo on their skin. How many of your customers have your logo tattooed on their skin? I have ONE customer with a Graze Tattoo!


Here’s fun fact. ELVIS HAD SALES OF OVER $35 MILLION DOLLARS IN 2017, 40 years after his death.

How about you? What were your sales in 2017? Think about it for a second, how many people do you know who can’t stand Elvis? Think about the controversy that Elvis started with all that hip movement, way back in the 1950’s…

OK, so you’ve read all the way to here, and you are still not convinced.

You don’t like the controversy of the rule of thirds. You want to appeal to everybody. You want to be ALL Things to ALL People. That is the path to IRRELEVANCE.

I say you have two choices:

  1. The Rule of Thirds

  2. Irrelevance.


It is when you are un-interesting, un-necessary AND invisible. Ruby Tuesday’s is the perfect example of IRRELEVANT. Nobody knows what it is and nobody cares. The Ruby Tuesday folks don’t even know what they are.

The Rule of Thirds is the only way to go.

THE RULE OF THIRDS WILL SET YOU FREE. The Rule of Thirds will allow you to stay true to yourself and your brand and most importantly – YOUR CORE CUSTOMERS who LOVE YOU and support you through thick and thin.


It’s true when you really zero in on who you are and what type of team members you want on your team. One third of the people will HATE working for you… ouch! Oh does that hurt?

Yeah, I know you don’t want to be hated! Remember the movie – Meet the Fockers?


Do you know what the haters do? - THEY HATE! These are the people who blast you on Facebook… These are the people who crucify you on YELP! DON’T LISTEN TO THEM… THEY ARE HATERS… They Hate…



  • You gotta get comfortable with saying NO to the people and things that don’t work for you.

  • You gotta get comfortable allowing the HATERS to be un-happy.

  • You can’t change who you are to please people who don’t like you.

Remember what Abe said. “You can’t please all the people, all the time, but you can please some of the people, most of the time”.

I try very hard not to waste my time worrying about or trying to please the two thirds of people who don’t like or hate what I am trying to do. This is NOT an easy thing to do, but it gets easier with time and practice.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes of all time, this one is from Mark Twain.

Never allow someone to become your priority, while you remain their option.

Just because a vegetarian lives in your neighborhood, doesn’t mean you should put a veggie burger on your menu. Before you know it, you will be forced to do the unthinkable, and put a salad on a burger menu. I’ve never ordered a salad at Five Guy’s – How about you?

The Rule of Thirds also means:

  • 1/3 of you will LOVE this podcast

  • 1/3 of you will HATE this podcast, and think that I am full of crap. and

  • 1/3 will of you will have no opinion either way.

I’m OK with that, because I know who I am - and I am dedicated to doing my best to serve the 1/3 of the people who like, love and care about my message.

The fact is that I wholeheartedly believe in my message, it has served me well for many years, AND I know this message will work for those of you who do believe.

My name is Peter Harman, I am the Food Guru. My goal is to help you build a better restaurant. One baby step at a time.

Your job this week is to go out and BE a better version of YOURSELF. Your job is to throw some RED MEAT to your base of loyal followers… 1% Better every day. 300% Better Every Year.

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