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This is a very old custom, which is cited in the Sefer Rokeach Hilkhot Shabat 49 by Eleazar of Worms.1 The meaning of the three is given by the Kaf haChayim in his commentary to Orach Chayim 268:34, saying that it refers to the three worlds (see here), the higher, the middle and the lower one: ובצרור המור ט"א על ג"פ נגד ג' עולמות עולם עליון ואמצעי ותחתון ...


The minhag of the Vilna Gaon (and his disciples) was not say the one preceding Amidah, due to concerns of Hefsek between the brachos and the Amida. Nevertheless, the significance of saying it thrice is bought in the Or Zorua (שאלות ותשובות תשנב ט) from Medrash (שוחר טוב, דרוש מקור) - in correlation to the three times the word 'אשר' is quoted in Parshas ...


The Beur Halacha says that beshaas hadechak, in pressing circumstances, when you make kiddush you can have in mind to eat in another room in the same building. He concludes that if you can see the other room, then in all circumstances it's fine, so long as you had in mind to eat there. My guess has always been that in certain shuls the Rabbi is concerned ...

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