“Forks” (season 2, episode 7) of the TV show The Bear focuses on Richie spending time in Michelin-starred restaurant that one of the staff members claims is “the best restaurant in the world.” Without giving too much away, in the episode, Richie learns the secrets of how both the back and front-of-house operate in such a high-end establishment.
Keep in mind that I watched this particular episode with more interest than most because when Richie first arrived at the restaurant, I realized that I had actually eaten at the establishment that was being represented in the TV show. The lobby decor is very distinctive, and I recognized it immediately. Initially, I wasn’t sure if they were just using the physical location as a set or if it was truly supposed to be the restaurant until a few scenes later when we see someone in a chef’s jacket embroidered with the real restaurant’s name, Ever, on their chest.
In one scene, the team is reviewing the “PON” list for the evening, which we learn stands for “Person of Note” (because who doesn’t love a good acronym!). During the PON review, one of the managers shares the names of the politicos and celebrities who have reservations to dine at the establishment that evening.
We also learn about a reservation for a couple who are both high school teachers. The manager shares that the wife’s Instagram account indicated that the wife has always dreamed about eating at such a high-end restaurant and the couple has been saving up to dine there. In anticipation of their arrival, the manager sets expectations on how they should be treated and closes with “I want to blow their minds.”
In another scene, Richie is chatting 1:1 with the expeditor and learns how she tracks the preferences and special requests of each evening’s guests. In the same scene, he also learns that the restaurant employees a designated staff member to research each guest before the evening’s service. Now, Richie is the one who seems blown away!
It seems like the front-of-house staff is doing just as much prep work each evening as are the chefs and cooks in the back of the house. The restaurant is striving for the overall experience – it’s not just about the food.
After the exchange between Richie and the expeditor, my mind started to swirl:
“Wow, that’s impressive!”
“I wonder if restaurants really do that?”
“This is actually really cool.”
“If Ever actually did research on us, they probably didn’t learn a lot.”
“I’m betting we weren’t a PON table the night we dined there.”
“Or, maybe we were a PON since we had some dietary restrictions noted in our reservation?”
Wait a minute….
Researching guests? Isn’t that sort of like …. Prospect Research?!?!
That was my lightbulb moment.
But wait another minute…
We all know that TV shows can sometimes overly exaggerate and dramatize “real life” so I was curious as to whether what I had just watched actually happens. So, being a researcher, I reached out some folks who work or have worked in restaurants similar to the one depicted in the show and similar to Ever, where I had dined. I confirmed that yes (!!) some of the “best restaurants in the world” do conduct research on their guests, even using some of the same resources that we are familiar with as prospect researchers. Similarly, some 4- and 5-star hotel chains keep corporate-wide databases of their clientele to track preferences, interests and stays.
Clearly, the “best of the best” in the hospitality industry care enough to assure their guests have unique and personalized experiences.
More broadly, luxury brands and service providers follow the spending trends of the high-new worth market in studies like the Knight Frank Wealth Report and work with companies like The Luxury Institute to tailor their marketing and relationship building.
Why should fundraising be any different?
In many instances we are building relationships with the same people, the same clientele, that is frequenting these establishments and doing business with these brands.
In some strange way, “Forks” is playing homage to the Prospect Research community without even knowing it!
- If we want our major and principal giving donors to feel special and to be understood;
- If our organizations strive to build meaningful relationships with these donors – the deepest relationships with those whom we hope will make the most meaningful and impactful gifts to our institutions;
- If we are looking for mission-matching – finding the right opportunities for philanthropists to invest their money;
- If we strive to be donor-centered, not institution-centered*;
Then what better way to accomplish this than to take a cue from our for-profit counterparts? It’s all about the prep work!
*In “Forks” we actually see the evolution of Richie going from being self-centered individual (institution-centered, in non-profit terms) to being guest-centered one(donor-centered, in non-profit terms). For me, it really hits home during the scene where he delivers a “special dish” to one of the tables. But, I won’t say anymore because then I would really spoil the episode. So, go watch it! You’ll know the scene when you see it).