Tag Archives: expat

Grand Hyatt Shanghai: You eat in my hotel, I eat in yours~

Welcome hoteliers!

LinkedIn is such a powerful networking tool if you use it right. If you add everyone and never communicate with them, what’s the point?

When I listed my position on LinkedIn, I had many requests to connect, as well as requested to connect with others; Grand Hyatt was very popular in Shanghai. So I made some good contacts but my closet contact was with a man from Dubai. He was working as a Ritz executive club manager at the Ritz Carlton Pudong hotel next door to Grand Hyatt and boy was I salty. 

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Ritz Carlton Pudong Club Lounge

Ritz Carlton is actually my favorite hotel chain.

Well, I love Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt, Ritz Carlton & Four Seasons. So Ritz is one of my favorites let’s say that.

The Ritz Carlton Pudong was a bit more international than the staff at Grand Hyatt. The Front Office Manager at Grand Hyatt, a German guy, was leaving after being there for 3 years. Leaving me, and the interns who would also leave soon as the only expats in the front office. However the Ritz had a Director of Rooms who was a Hispanic woman, my friend from Dubai, an assistant front office manager who I didn’t meet but was international as well, more interns than us and more foreigner staff overall; Grand Hyatt only had around 8 foreign staff excluding interns.


Connections are very important, I always knew this, however the DOR (director of rooms) was a director in Dubai as well, her husband was from Dubai, they worked at a JW Marriott there, and my friend was also from Dubai, they worked with him and brought him to China after they settled there, that’s incredible to me because it isn’t easy to get in China trust me, I had luck + language + skills they needed that’s the only way I was getting in at my level.


So the club manager and myself became pretty good friends and he would invite me to meet up at the club lounge. And partake of some incredible incredible… one more time… incredible club food. So I introduced him to our club manager a few weeks later and he ate at our club. Of course this was rather under the table, and don’t even be shocked, all kinds of things like this happen in hotels.

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Most times, staff can’t really get the opportunity to try the nice fancy stuff guests enjoy, although in new hotels this is changing. How can we recommend and describe the flavors in the food, comfort of the bed, views etc. without having tested it?

So it became quite often for me to go to Ritz for a meal before or after work, and for him likewise… until we got caught. Our DOR (director of rooms) noticed him from before and wanted to have a meal and see what was going on. After they chatted, it was fine, but he had to pay half the price and could only come by letting us know.

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So yeah, he got caught and it became regulated, but what was surprising is that it was allowed to continue at all. Meanwhile I was sneaky to avoid detection at the Ritz ;D. In the end, I just paid each time to treat my buddy, since Ritz club food was way more expensive than our club. Friends over food are friends for life! 

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Thanks for stopping by, and see you in the next article!

Best Regards,

Daniel Cooper

Grand Hyatt Shanghai: First challenge, old staff new tricks!

Welcome Hoteliers.
You know how they say you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”
Do they have a saying for old staff? Certainly you can teach them new tricks right? I’d soon find out.

New managers like myself are all very gung-ho. We’re gonna change everything, we got all these new ideas and we’re gonna MHGA. (make hotel great again, see what I did there? 😉 )

I thank my parents for many things. A good many things indeed, one thing my parents taught me, always pay attention to everything, your surroundings, people etc.
What I got from them is, pay attention to what you say, do, and what’s around you. So when I was spewing all these ideas of great changes to come, the staff looked at me with this look. It was a look that had a little “you crazy as hell,” a little “this guy…” and a little “bye Felicia” all mixed in it.
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I quickly noticed and changed my tune.

The staff definitely saw I took a hint, and as embarrassing as it is to admit. I got a little respect from it, they see I valued their opinion; well at least we all laughed about it several months down the line.
Most of the staff were in their late 20s early 30s and had worked at Grand Hyatt for a few years. The 2nd person closet to my age at my position was 32, married with a kid. So me being 22, definitely raised some eyebrows. I had to prove myself before I could change a pen on the desk since I was definitely being watched; they wanted to see how I performed.

The GM wanted change. So I knew whatever I want to change or enhance, I had to build it and do it myself until they get curious enough to join me; it really is that simple. Not all staff, but a small amount are interested in improving themselves, which I prefer anyway. A small team of elites!

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I created 2 simple VIP programs. The VIP courtesy call log, and re-introduced a program they had a longtime ago such as birthday cakes with handwritten notes. The latter was simple, it’s a guest birthday; send a cake. This is certainly a western tradition but in the east, it was not as widely celebrated, however it was becoming more popular. And it’s a nice gesture, with a hand-written card = good online review.

The former being a courtesy call log. It’s also simple, I broke it into 4 sections. VIPs, Hyatt Gold Passport (now World of Hyatt) members, short stays of 5-9 nights, and long stay of 10+ nights.
Most guests, even if you ask, don’t want to tell you their bad experiences, especially VIPs. Not to categorize guests, because all guests are important. But a normal guest paying $150 on booking.com who leaves a bad review, we can do damage control, give a little compensation and all is well in heaven and earth. A VIP, can result in loss of a contract which can effect 50 rooms nights or more, sometimes it’s the boss of the company itself who can simply move their account to a competitor. So these calls can catch a situation before it festers and becomes deal-breaking; we call that, service recovery
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I would call the guest room an hour to two hours after check-in to ask about the room condition, are the facilities to their liking, do they need anything, and establish a point of contact. If they are short stay guests for 5-9 nights or long staying guests 10+ nights, we call them every 3 days to see if they need a refresh etc.

I also used my report to build preferences such as housekeeping servicing times, so the guests did not get a sudden wake up from the housekeepers, I mean how awkward is it for a housekeeper to poke their head in when you’re snoozing and get woken up. I confirm checkout time which makes it easier to flip the house (more hotel jargon, basically knowing how many departures you have, at what time, how many rooms you can get cleaned at what times, and how many rooms you can get back to plan for your arrivals and pre-assign early departure rooms to early arrival guests or VIPs etc etc etc~).
So, my report was a big deal!
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After a few days of committing to my reports, some staff & interns wanted to get on board.

I suspect for language practice, many international guests from corporate accounts such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Deloitte, Credit Suisse had contracted nights, so they were common guests; the staff wanted to practice with them. I also suspect they wanted to sit down in the back office and call guests as such allowed them a small break from the desk and who could blame them for that. 😉

My advice is if you are starting at a new job and want to implement changes, implement them yourself and show its success to the team before you want others to join you on it thus proving your ability and not wasting anyone’s time!

Thanks for stopping by and see you in the next article.
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Best Regards,

Daniel Cooper

Grand Hyatt Shanghai: Guest Interaction Workshop!

Welcome hoteliers!

The GM at Grand Hyatt Shanghai wanted to drastically improve guest service scores since the hotel had been stagnant with guest feedback scores hovering around 74%.

This meant a sizable portion of people were unhappy mainly from the F&B side, or the check-in side. Unlike most hotels, the rooms at Grand Hyatt Shanghai were quite nice, had great technology, and were well maintained. Which meant most of the issues were from a service standpoint: Slow check-in, cold staff, no greetings and the big one… staff couldn’t speak English.

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It was a little easier for F&B since they had a menu, guests could simply point to what they wanted if the staff didn’t understand them, but from the rooms department guests had many varying preferences which couldn’t be communicated easily, or they needed a taxi and the bellman couldn’t communicate their destination.

I recall a time where a guest described an airport he wanted to go to, the bellman didn’t understand him and told the taxi driver which airport he thought the guest was going to, but Shanghai has two airports, one on each side of the city, two hours apart from each other. I overheard as I was walking to pick up a VIP from the front gate, and asked the bellman which airport, he tried to explain what the guest said but couldn’t understand. So we chased after the taxi which was at a red light and asked the guest exactly which airport he was referring to, he was going to Hongqiao airport, the taxi driver was bringing him to Pudong airport.

If we didn’t catch him, oh boy, the guest would have gotten to the first airport an hour and a half later, been lost, then spend two hours going to the other; also the trip would have cost the guest almost $100; for Chinese taxis, that is quite a lot of money.

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The problem our staff had, wasn’t that their English was overly bad, it was decent, the problem was that they get nervous speaking to western guests. So HR and I started working on a guest interaction workshop. The point of this was to introduce a variety of scenarios the guest may inquire about which the staff would be able to provide urgent and effective care; and for the staff to be able to communicate in English!

It was fun and enjoyable, to say the least, they were eager to learn, we also gave them many phrases and sentences they might encounter, taught them how to pronounce certain words & improve their accents, how to handle complaints, international guest tendencies and…. The difference between western countries.


One difference between western countries and China, is that in the west, we are very politically sensitive and very aware of others backgrounds. Such as American, Canadian, Mexican, French, Italian etc. However in China, and also the language is structured this way, but it isn’t as politically sensitive, it’s simply you’re Chinese or you’re not. More specifically, 外国人(wàiguórén foreigner) means every country that isn’t China. The issue with this is that French, German, American etc. have no distinction to most Chinese locals until educated about the differences. All Caucasian people are from America or the UK; all black people are from Africa etc.

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The workshop did wonders to show them some of the differences in cultures as well as improve their language and they were very eager to engage international guests. We did this workshop once a month and had good results. Overall, it was a good experience to teach old staff new skills, and for me, to assist in helping a hotel trying to regain its former glory was quite an enjoyable journey so far. At this point I’ve been working at Grand Hyatt for a two weeks so far.

My advice, especially when working in hotels within mainland China, patience is a virtue. Most of the staff have had limited exposure to expats, even in a hotel setting. Besides the normal interactions, there is a lot they do not understand and have never been taught. Take the time to find the best way to introduce them to different cultures, ways of thinking, and find the middle ground to help them bridge the gap. In my former hotel, I saw that they love learning in a group setting, so a workshop was most effective. See what would work for your property and make it happen!

Thanks for stopping by and see you in the next article!

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Best Regards,

Daniel Cooper

Grand Hyatt Shanghai: Right place at the right time~!!!

Welcome hoteliers!

Life’s certainly interesting how things work out and this job was definitely one of those situations.


Grand Hyatt Shanghai was a place with a lot of issues, every hotel has issues but we certainly had a ton, but that was the beauty of it. The hotel had been operating for 17 years, which is very old; although it had completed a nice renovation two years before I joined.

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Deluxe King size room with a view! Grand Hyatt Shanghai

The problem with old hotels isn’t the product, it’s the owners.

The hotel lifespan in China is very short. In the beginning they invest like crazy to have the best of the best product wise, with foreign workers, top chefs etc. then 3 years down the line, they roll out their staff reduction plans, cut high level positions in favor of cheaper local alternatives which makes sense, I mean it’s China, but you do have to cater to your international guests too.

Then the owning company starts to only care about profit and forget the true sense of hospitality. And that’s when the major issues start to surface. The leadership down to management down to the front line staff, feel the need to cut costs. For example, in order to cut costs, we resorted to giving the guests only 1 room key so we don’t need to order as many room keys; many people, and understandably so, like to take hotel keys as souvenirs. I like that, I mean, isn’t our job to leave lasting experiences anyway?

We also had to limit compensation regardless of the nightmare stay for the guest. Using out of order rooms with messed up facilities as last sell on sold out nights but putting them back in service to put a body in the room; once the guest is seen as walking money, service falls.


I’ve seen this trap many times, but Grand Hyatt was special. Most hotels don’t escape this trap, rather, they encourage it. If they cut costs one year, cut more the next. Makes sense right? But it’s horrible for hotels! Don’t compromise guest experience!

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Sorry about that, but I’m passionate about guest experiences.

Grand Hyatt though was trying it’s best to reverse that, our GM who was from the UK, had put such an emphasis on guest experience that it was shocking. I never worked with a more hands on GM who was always present in the lobby, asked questions to staff to make sure we were prepared, had weekly meetings, watched scores and demanded answers for every bad survey. You name it he was on it, and I respected him for it. He was in between serving the owners who wanted to make huge ROI (return on investment) and ensuring staff is happy, so we treat the guest right.

The way I see it, the job of the agents is to make guests happy, the supervisors protect the agents from the managers who want efficiency in business hotels such as Grand Hyatt, the managers protect the staff from the directors who want to cut costs and force us to give guests one key, and reuse items if not visibly damaged. The directors protect the department from the GM and owners who want to cut positions to save money and make one man work as three. Efficiency is good, but the staff aren’t robots… at least for now.

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This is really a thing… at Hyatt Regency Tokyo

And finally, the GM protects the hotel from the owners who 95% of the time, never worked in the industry, don’t know anything about hotels and only see it as piece of real estate and see people as walking money. The GM also has to tell the owners what’s best for them, I mean, why hire an experienced expert and not listen to his/her advice?


The hotel was in a state of change and I felt that not only could I achieve great things there, but I could learn so much more; and that I did. It was my 2nd week and I created the “guest interaction workshop” with HR for all front of house employees. The way Grand Hyatt was trying to redefine itself, I definitely knew I was at the right place at the right time.

My advice being to recognize each job for the opportunities that may emerge. Sometimes in the most chaotic of situations, lie an opportunity to change, own, or redefine something that changes everything! In hotels, look for something that you can own and take care of; not only is it a great resume builder, but leave your mark in the hotel’s future process and watch your legacy grow!


Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next article!

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Best Regards,

Daniel Cooper

 

My first day at Grand Hyatt Shanghai! I realized why I was hired!

Welcome hoteliers.

The last article was about my first night back in Shanghai, and how I went to club Modu, which was probably not the smartest idea. However Modu would become a hangout spot that became a theme in my time in Shanghai.


I was told by FYU (Guest Service Manager) that I would start work at 10am, so obviously I figured I would have some time to rest, however my room was called at 7am and asked if I was coming to morning briefing. Obviously confused I asked who I was speaking with and of course it was the Front Office Manager.

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They texted me on my US number which didn’t work because I was now in China. I also arrived at the hotel a little past 11pm which means I did not have a phone number yet; but I told them I’d be ready by 8 and ready I was.


When I got to the desk it was quite exciting, we had some international interns, two interns from Indonesia and one from Hong Kong but was originally from India! I got introduced to the team, surprised everyone with my Chinese, got all the materials I needed and just a brief department rundown and I was done for the day.

I figured I’d relax and get some sleep, I was obviously exhausted, but not even an hour later my room got called. The front office manager was a gentleman from Germany, but he had stepped away and there was an international guest who demanded to speak to an international manager.

The problem? The agent didn’t understand his English accent, when she said “let me get my manager,” he began attacking her English, poor girl. So I was called to rescue the damsel in distress. Guest wanted a room with a tub and extra coffee in room.

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So after putting out that fire, I decided to just stay at the front desk and observe; that first day showed me 90% of the issues the front desk suffered from, and I had realized why I was hired.

1.) I’m from the United States and I can speak Chinese. I can bridge the gaps at the front desk since the Front Office Manager didn’t speak Chinese. (In China usually at the Front office manager position and above, you don’t need to necessarily need to speak the local language because you don’t have too much guest engagement, you’re more administrative, but, I suggest learning)!

2.) I’m from NY, so I know how to handle crazy situations. I know how to tell the guest no if they’re being overly inconsiderate of our efforts to work together, but I don’t physically say no! (In Chinese culture, their version of polite is to agree then find a reason to decline after the other party leave, so as to not cause a loss of face; face being an article for later)!

3.) Grand Hyatt Shanghai had a large foreign clientele base and many contracts with multi-national companies; much more than I expected, even for Shanghai! The western traveler likes to small talk, laugh, meet new people, and have a warm check in experience. The Asian traveler wants to be checked in ASAP. Does not really want to engage strangers, does not want to be kept waiting and it’s a little awkward to make useless small talk. (Of course generalizations, and doesn’t entirely apply to all business guests either. But most western guests are more casual, most Asian guests we had, just want their room and does not like being asked questions).

4.) The staff was a bit robotic. Staring at the computers like robots and not engaging the guests. In NY we have a 5-10 rule; 5 feet engage guest (good morning, evening, etc.) 10 feel acknowledge guest (nod, give Guest a smile, look inviting, but don’t shout hello from the across the lobby). So they needed me to teach the staff how to give good customer service and to be more approachable; I could tell that the guests felt awkward passing the desk.

5.) Teach them English… The English level in hotels in China is decreasing. This is because there’s so much supply of positions, and not enough qualified personnel to choose from. The hotels hire anyone with decent English scores but conduct the interview in Chinese so they don’t actually know how the speaking capacity of many new hires. Also in Asia schooling is based on memorization not application. For example many agents could write English beautifully, but, could not pronounce what they wrote. Hence, when a western guest walked past, I actually saw a agent put their head down hoping the guest wouldn’t see them…?

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On my first day I noticed easily what the department struggled with. I realized what they needed from me and I felt that I could easily provide.

Win-win situation since I had the skills to provide, minus the English teaching. I don’t have anything against it, but I don’t have the patience to be a teacher and have never done it. I’ve spent years convincing people in China just because a western person speaks English doesn’t qualify them to teach it and that was definitely my case. But I was certainly going to try my best.

My advice is that although I ended up in a pretty good situation, however, if you’re going to China, find out your job description first! What they need from you, and what they expect from you before you arrive. Again, contracts and negotiated terms are stretched and there are many gray areas; It’s not unheard of for expatriate workers to be given extra responsibilities outside of their normal duties while in China, and you will be persuaded quite convincingly to agreeing to help; then it becomes your responsibilities forever! Just make sure you’re aware what you’re getting into, I was not fully aware, but again, it worked out for me.


All in all I quite enjoyed my first day, it was spontaneous, interesting, I love to fix things, and I was back in China baby!

Thanks for stopping by, and see you in the next article.

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Best Regards,

Daniel Cooper

 

HYATT means Hurry Your A%% There Tomorrow!! 

Welcome hoteliers!

Grand Hyatt Shanghai… ah… I remember my first day as clear as it was 3 year’s ago.

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I remember when the HR at my current Hyatt told me a joke, and this was as recent as 2 months ago but now it makes so much sense. Hyatt, in a joking fashion means Hurry Your A%% There Tomorrow! I mean, isn’t that incredible?

What does Marriott stand for I wonder…


When my papers and visas were all processed, Grand Hyatt Shanghai asked me twice how soon could I arrive.

Well, 4 days after I get my visa I said my goodbyes to friends and family, and I was on my flight back to the Middle Kingdom.


My excitement was real. I figured since one of my college best friends was still in Shanghai, I’d check-in, get a bite to eat, then hit the club. To celebrate being a manager in such a luxury hotel at 22 years old! Get wasted, relax, repeat, and start working in a few days.

Then reality set in, although I did party, my arrival was like this:

“Im here to check in, I’m one of the new big bad assistant front office managers (I didn’t actually say big bad, but my chest was flexed) oh, and I spoke all in Chinese cause ya know, why not right? The Guest Service Manager came to greet me:

“Mr. Cooper, welcome, we’ve all been waiting for you, let the bellman send your bags to the room and I’ll do your tour of the hotel!”

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Tour?? I thought with a puzzled look. “What tour? My schedule said that was on Monday” (I arrived on a Thursday night.)

“Oh I see, well I’ll do a tour right now for you. Besides the Front Office Manager wants you to start tomorrow”

GRAND HYATT SHANGHAI…

“Well sure I guess, I just got off of a 14-hour flight but yeah I’d love a quick tour.” I said with a unconvinced look he definitely picked up on my sarcasm and said… “Great!! We’ll start from the back of house service area then walk through housekeeping, front office, and guest rooms. It should only take an hour!”

I’m pretty sure it was 11pm when I got to the hotel. I didn’t know it then, but the GSM (Guest Service Manager) would actually be my mentor despite being of the same employment level. He had worked for Grand Hyatt Shanghai for 17 Year’s since its opening and was quite content. Although he’s okay with me using his name, I’m gonna use his initials because it’s just too funny… FYU (I’m dead serious).

After the tour ended and I was in my room I showered, refreshed, and rushed out, my friend was already in the club! On my way out, I noticed something absolutely important and this is very profound. I’m a foreigner, a black guy at that, anywhere I go, I’m going to be seen. The fact that I can’t leave the hotel without passing the front desk means… if I’m clubbing, drunk, or bring back company, I’ll be seen… and judged… and how fast did I realize this?


FYU (Guest Service Manager) was waiting in the lobby, doing lobby management, we all had to do minimum 2 hours a day of lobby management.

“Hey DC, (my nickname but I certainly didn’t tell him that, we weren’t cool like that yet) on your way to club? Gonna meet some pretty girls and get drunk yeah ?”

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“Nah…. I’m just going to get a quick drink at my friends house.” (I can’t have them thinking I’m a party animal alcoholic foreigner, not that I was, most of the time, I actually carry myself quite well.)

And with that, I was in the elevator from the lobby on the 54th floor back to the ground level. (Grand Hyatt Shanghai is on the 53rd floor to the 87th floor of the Jin Mao tower)

So, yeah, HYATT lives up to it’s name, hurry your a## there tomorrow. They intended me to start ASAP, and who can blame them for that. I did end up clubbing hard, but my advice is, to double check and then, to check again your starting schedules. Often in China, the expectation and excitement to have an international manager is to the point that they want you to work immediately as was in my case. Stress the adjustment period since you’ll be jet-lagged and it’ll be miserable for a few days. Don’t burn yourself out at the most critical time, and definitely don’t club and work the next day!


Next I’ll tell you about the club experience in the next article! Thanks for stopping by hoteliers and see you in the next time!

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Best Regards,

Daniel Cooper

 

Negotiating benefits & salary at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai!!

Welcome hoteliers!

When Grand Hyatt gave me my first offer, it was for 7,500rmb/$1,134 a month, flat. No extras!

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A lot of people don’t like to negotiate or have a discussion after they get an offer because of the fear that they might lose the job, or scare away the employer; but in my experience and from what I’ve seen, is that if they are giving you an offer, they don’t want to lose you and will certainly be open to discussing your compensation.

This exchange is even more extreme for China where everything is open to negotiation, and Chinese people are excellent hagglers; buying fruits at a market is open to negotiation… seriously. But I love it!

So after I found the first offer unacceptable, I sent an email to the GM, and 24 hours later, I had a new offer. The details simply put:

Salary: 8,000rmb/$1212

Housing allowance: 4,000rmb/$606

Two months comp. stay in hotel until I find housing, but if I wanted to stay, I would share a room with an intern…

Laundry: 2,000rmb/$303 allowance


There was just one thing missing, food! I like to eat good, I mean, real good. I do love Chinese food don’t get me wrong, but a nice pizza, or steak, or some pasta… I was going to burn my check. So I needed to negotiate further.

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Here’s a piece of advice my big brother in China gave me:

“Contracts in China can always be amended”

So, what I did is instead of pushing for a meal plan and asking too much right away, I waited until I got to the hotel, started working, then approached the HR. Now I don’t want to sound like I felt entitled, but a rapid change in diet, switching to 60% spicy, 20% local, 20% unidentifiable foods can trigger your body in a weird way. To me, I just couldn’t find the energy, plus I was jet lagged. So I gave it a few days then pushed my meal plan and got it; the reason I waited, and they already had me on payroll & working, is that they’re not going to, in theory, let me go because I pushed for a meal plan.

So my meal plan was as follows: although I have a specific amount in my earlier article, I gave that number based on how much I used per month on average but this is what the plan consisted of.

  • 8 meals per week in the Grand Cafe (our ADD (all day dining restaurant))
  • 2,000rmb/$303 in another restaurant
  • 1,500rmb/$227 in the collection of high end restaurants on the 56th floor including Italian, Japanese etc.
  • 50% off if I go over those thresholds and 50% off of drinks at the bar if I went.

Pretty sweet huh?

But to wrap this up in a nice article here’s how it works:

1.) HR departments have a lot of programs, resources and benefits they can extend to those who ask. (So always ask)!

2.) Negotiate the most important things first, and don’t settle just for the opportunity, you need to be okay with what you’re accepting (it’ll affect your morale sooner or later). I was willing to accept a low salary for an opportunity and a title but my parents were always a support base if and when I needed help.

3.) Contracts can be amended, added onto, and ratified in China without pause. Most times, without asking, you won’t receive much, but they usually have a budget for these things they just want to low-ball a little; most employers do.

4.) American culture is viewed as highly respectful (please, thank you, open doors for others etc.) in China this is viewed as too formal, and a little uncomfortable, so when it comes to negotiations, we try not to be pushy, China’s the opposite. Those who push, haggle, and get aggressive, get what they want.

5.) Finally, learn what the standard of living is, and potentially budget and plan before you go. I’ll tell you about being broke in China and it’s not fun, trust me. Build a savings and safety cushions, since China , compared with the United States, has a cheaper standard of living, you end up consuming and buying more goods, food, and things you didn’t at home; as such you rack up twice the expenses.


Thanks for stopping by, and see you in the next article.

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Best Regards,

Daniel Cooper