WHILE Beijing's austerity policy has hit many Guangzhou restaurants, the management of the spectacular Sun Kwong Garden Restaurant say it is proving that it can flourish in bad times as well as good. The restaurant, a joint venture between Hong Kong businessman Lee Shing and Guangzhou park management authorities, has a prime site at Liuhua Lake, near five-star hotels and the Guangzhou export commodities fair exhibition hall. Mr Lee, who invested more than $60 million in the project, took only five months to build the palace-style complex, with a restaurant, night club and 28 expensively decorated dining rooms. ''Although the catering business in Guangzhou has always flourished, there was no unique up-market restaurant in the city when the concept was floated in 1992,'' said Albert Ho, manager of the Sun Kwong Garden Restaurant. ''Many people had become wealthy following a decade of economic boom, and they deserve somewhere to match their new status - somewhere high class but not necessarily expensive.'' The complex's extravagant design swiftly distinguished it from its competitors. The building itself became a tourist attraction. However, said Mr Ho, less wealthy customers should not be put off by the restaurant's appearance, as the menu was designed to cater to all. Mr Ho said big spenders were rare. ''Our customers know that they are not here to fill their stomachs.'' However, there was one memorable customer who paid 90,000 yuan (about HK$120,600 at the official rate) for a meal for 10. ''It is not the food that is expensive, but imported alcohol.'' The complex's average turnover is nine million yuan per month, 95 per cent of it from the restaurant and only a small proportion from the night club. Mr Ho said business could be even better during the Guangzhou export commodities fair. Most of the time, about 60 per cent of customers were from the mainland, 30 per cent overseas Chinese and the rest Westerners. Mr Ho said Beijing's austerity programme had hit spending and affected the Guangzhou catering industry. ''But the impact depended on different establishments' ability to cope,'' he said. Mr Ho said most of the managers at the Sun Kwong Garden Restaurant had been recruited from five-star hotels in the city. He himself had spent eight years at the Garden Hotel. ''This background has enabled us to be more effective in employing modern marketing techniques both to expand our customer base and keep our old customers when others are waiting hopelessly for custom,'' he said. He said the Sun Kwong Garden Restaurant kept records on more than 1,000 of its customers. ''If we have not seen them for some time, our managers will go to their companies or work units in person to find out the problem, and offer them extra incentives,'' he said. He said business had returned to normal a few months after the start of the austerity programme. The restaurant is currently at the centre of a legal dispute, having been accused of occupying a piece of land to which it was not entitled. Mr Ho said the dispute was the result of a misunderstanding. He said his managers were hoping to repeat the restaurant's success in other Chinese cities.