Friday, April 11, 2008

Destined To Fail

I'm going to take a little diversion today from diving to talk about one of my other favorite things, eating. Kelli and I go out to eat quite often, every day for lunch and usually for dinner on the weekends. That gives us a pretty good idea of what works on this island as far as retaurants go and what the key to success is. I did a blog not long ago about the Gentle Brook restaurant on the first floor of the Marianas Business Plaza. Sadly it was not a positive experience, and I predicted they wouldn't be in business long with things like a $15 clam chowder in a bread bowl on their menu. It's just too pricey for our current economic condition. If you're going to charge that much, the atmosphere had better be out of this world and the quality of food had better knock your socks off, neither of those things existed.

Last Friday night we decided to try another new restaurant that has opened up, Aglaia. It is located between Winchells and Capricciosa in Garapan. They have a nice looking sign out front that promises island cuisine. One thing that any restaurant owner here had better consider is that you need to have a local customer base in order to survive. If you're going to depend entirely on tourists for your survival you will fail, unless you have a deal set up with every tour operator to include a meal at your restaurant as a part of their package. That being said, it is important that you have ample parking, or at least that there is plenty of parking available close to your restaurant. Most people aren't willing to walk several blocks from where they have to park to go to the restaurant, that's just a fact. Aglaia has 2 parking spots in front of the restaurant, that's it - 2! That's the first strike against them.

When we walked in we were totally impressed with the interior. They have decorated it very nicely. I wouldn't say it's outstanding or something totally unique, but it's tastefully done, very clean and comfortable and it's the sort of place you would enjoy spending an hour or two. They obviously spent some good money buying nice furnishings and totally transforming the inside of that building. We were the only people in the restaurant, which I found strange since it seemed like they were either having their grand opening, or had just had it. There were a bunch of congratulatory flower arrangements out front. But I hadn't seen any advertising for it anywhere, I know they didn't do anything on the radio, and I hadn't seen anything in the newspaper. Strike 2, if you don't properly promote your restaurant and get the word out, most people will not just come in out of curiosity.

Once we were seated, the waitress brought us a couple cool wash towels and the menu. The menu is fairly extensive and has quite a few choices in it, but it certainly wasn't island cuisine. The only thing I saw that might fit that description was a pineapple stuffed with fried rice. Aside from that it looked like the menu in many other Japanese restaurants, they were clearly shooting for the Japanese market. Prices were definitely on the high side, for example a Rib Eye steak was $29.95. You might get that from some tourists, but you will definitely not get it from your local customers.

Another problem that surfaced almost immediately was their lack of anything for the vegetarians. Since my wife is mostly a vegetarian, with the exception of seafood, that is usually a big consideration in finding a restaurant, and I know she's far from the only one. Many of the local customers with money also have some of the same tastes, and you'd better give them a good selection of choices, it simply didn't exist at this restaurant.

Then I was literally blown away when I looked at the drink menu, it ranged in price from $7 - $9. That is outrageous for drinks locally. I asked the waiter if they offered happy hour prices, he said that no they didn't. Just doing a quick calculation in my head, that meant we'd be paying close to $70 for dinner for the two of us with one drink each. If I'm going to pay that much, I'll be heading for the buffet at the Hyatt. We got up and left the restaurant without ordering anything, and I'm guessing I won't be the only one who has that reaction.

I don't know if this restaurant owner consulted anyone on what would work here or on menu selection or pricing, but if he did, he wasted his money. Unless this restaurant makes some major changes immediately, they also will not be in business long. It's a shame when the people with the money to make these kind of investments don't do their homework first or at least bring on people with a good sense of what it will take to be successful. I hate seeing businesses fail for lack of a good plan, but I'm telling you right now that Aglaia's days are numbered without some substantial changes.