Fritz Sommerau, general manager of one of Peking's most profitable and popular hotels, used to have a problem with the egg supply to the hotel.
The eggs were usually put in wooden crates with no protective wrapping, then brought to the hotel on open-bed trucks. Many broke on the way -- "So you had a great big omelet" -- and those that survived were covered with dirt.
Before the eggs could be stored in the refrigerator or used, they had to be cleaned. Once, after telling the Chinese kitchen staff to clean the eggs, Sommerau arrived the next morning to find them shiny clean -- and hard boiled. They had been run through the dishwasher.
Sommerau said the Chinese staff has improved greatly since then. In fact, the Jianguo Hotel -- a joint venture between China and a Chinese American businessman from San Francisco -- has been making what Sommerau called a "handsome" profit since it opened in 1982.
The occupancy rate this year is expected to be about 96 percent, and the hotel management has been cited as a model for 50 of China's major hotels.
The Jianguo (which means "build the country") is only one of several luxury hotels that have cropped up in China in the past few years in response to the growing number of foreign visitors that have flocked to this country since the opening to the West. Chinese tourism officials have said their goal is to attract 5 million foreigners a year (not including the millions of Chinese from Hong Kong and Macao who visit yearly) by the end of the century, six times the number of visitors in 1982.
The crush has strained China's accommodations. To increase the quality and number of hotels, China has turned more and more to foreign companies. Of its 318 hotels used for foreign visitors, 25 are projects involving entrepreneurs from abroad. Fourteen have been completed and 11 others are under construction, according to Shen Shoujun, deputy director of promotion for the National Tourism Administration.
In Peking, where the pressure for beds is the greatest, these joint-venture hotels stand out. There are the neon lights advertising Charlie's Bar and Justine's Restaurant at the Jianguo, a replica of the Holiday Inn in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Great Wall, a $75 million, 1,007-room hotel, has a glass facade and a nightclub featuring the only foreign band in the country, the Electros, a seven-member Filipino combo, to which one can dance to a beat akin to Michael Jackson's. The $120 million Lido complex with a 1,000-room hotel, already partially open, a sports club and apartment center are expected to open by 1986.
The experiences of these hotels -- most of which will be turned over to the Chinese in the 1990s -- will set the pattern for future projects, including the problems, according to western diplomats and foreign businessmen.
The recently opened Great Wall, one of the largest Sino-American joint ventures, reportedly is having trouble repaying the first installment, which came due in July, of an $80 million loan, according to unnamed bankers quoted in an article in the Asian Wall Street Journal recently. It would be the first known major joint venture involving foreigners here to have such problems. A spokesman for the hotel had no comment.
The Jianguo, like most other hotels, however, has done so well that it reportedly is going to pay its loans off ahead of schedule, according to one western official whose offices are there.
"These are the first visible, active, profit-making joint ventures," a western official said.
Following the recent economic reforms, which freed enterprises to make their own managerial decisions, the Chinese are expected to rely even more on foreign assistance to make their businesses efficient and profitable.
Moreover, China is making a big push for development of its service industry.
Recent articles in the Chinese press have stressed the need for a highly developed service sector to support the new economic developments.
China currently has a service industry that employs about 15 percent of the work force and turns out about 20 percent of the gross national product, according to a recent article in China Daily.
By comparison, it said, "in most developed countries, the service industry provides 60 to 70 percent of the jobs and accounts for 50 to 60 percent of the GNP."
Reforms in industry are expected to release some of that work force, and these people should be absorbed by the service industry, the paper said.
The problems that confront these joint-venture hotels have centered largely on the country's inadequate supply network, poor management skills and inadequate technical abilities.
To offer the type of service most westerners are accustomed to, the hotels import everything from food staples, such as flour and beef, to mayonnaise, liquor and computer paper.
Import duties range from 80 percent on food to 200 percent on liquor, and are passed on to the customer.
At the Great Wall Hotel, general manager Peter Sun brought his own lettuce seeds to China and contracts out to the Peking Agricultural College.
At the Lido, general manager Ernst Zimmerman buys his butter from Mongolia. But he has to buy it during the winter because there are no refrigerated trucks, and he has to buy a year's supply.
At the Lido, the Chinese-made elevators were often too slow, so the hotel management ordered replacements from Japan. In the meantime, a notice posted in the elevator asks the guest to "pardon the inconvenience."
A major problem is the lack of training in hotel management -- from bellhop on up.
Until the foreign ventures started, "There wasn't any hotel to speak of," said Sun. "China had guest houses, but they only provided bed and food. Food service was come and get it, like a mess hall. If you came after the hours that food was served, it was too bad."
The problem with the service attitude stems from the Cultural Revolution, when serving another, especially a foreigner, was considered beneath one's dignity. In addition, until very recently, all workers received the same wage regardless of performance. There was no material incentive to do a good job, a phenomenon the Chinese have called "eating from the same big pot."
As a result, managers of the joint-venture hotels say they have to teach their Chinese staff virtually from scratch. "We teach them how to walk, how to smile, how to pick up something on the carpet if they see it," said Sun.
Jianguo's Sommerau is constantly explaining to his staff that to "serve is not to kowtow." And, he says, his staff has learned quickly.
Hotels in which foreign managers train and supervise the local staff have the reputation of providing better service than their Chinese counterparts, which also charge $65 to $120 a night.
The Xiyuan, a 1,347-room hotel that opened on a trial basis this summer, has Chinese management. A foreign businessman who stayed there recently said raw sewage backed up through his bathtub, and he could not find a staff person to take care of the problem because they were taking their daily xiuxi, or rest.
The Fragrant Hills Hotel, designed by Chinese American architect I.M. Pei, is often cited as an example of poor management.
Architecturally the most striking hotel here, it ran into all sorts of problems within months of opening in 1982. Air conditioning and heating did not work, water leaked through the ceiling, bathrooms were not cleaned and waiters and waitresses neglected customers. The hotel is in a district in western Peking where power is cut every Tuesday to save energy, and for a period last year, not enough water was available to the hotel on those days.
General manager Li Zhanfang acknowledged that the hotel has had problems. But he said that since July, service and maintenance have improved because he now has more control over the staff and has the authority to levy fines for poor performances and award substantial bonuses for good ones.
"Our training is still very weak professionally," he said. "The concept of 'eating from the same big pot' is still very strong."
But things are improving, he said. Recently, a foreigner had an argument with a telephone operator, who was rude to the guest, he said. The operator was transferred to a section where she had no contact with guests and was denied a promotion for six months.
"We are trying to strengthen the concept that the customer is always right," Li said.