McDonald’s received permission from the Communist party to establish a business in the Soviet Union in 1988. The first restaurant in Moscow opened its doors on Pushkinskaya square two years later. Over 5 thousand people attended its opening at dawn on 31 January 1990. The crowds of people were so large that scores of police officers were deployed to control the chaos.
McDonald’s set a world record that day: it served more than 30 thousand customers. People waited in line for over six hours to try this unusual food. Despite the summer, the lines just grew longer. The McDonald’s restaurant was crowded with people from other cities just for a single hamburger. The arrival of McDonald’s in Moscow appeared to be a sign of change under Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika and Russians’ drive to create a Western-style market system. The perestroika of 1986 provided a new opportunity for Soviet society to be more open but did not provide a quick fix to the USSR’s deeply flawed command economy.
The Soviet McDonald’s was not an easy place to work. Therefore, the company’s first employees were selected from the best universities in the Soviet Union, who spoke foreign languages and had brilliant skills in customer service. Soviet service workers were dismissive, unfriendly, and cold, but the new workers stood out in sharp contrast. People in the Soviet Union were accustomed to rude, boorish service, so they were utterly shocked when they encountered polite manners and beaming faces. McDonald’s chiefs ordered their staff to smile less because smiling made their customers feel uneasy. McDonald’s offered the average Soviet citizen a glimpse into life (and eating out) over the Iron Curtain at the time of perestroika. People got so excited when the golden arches made their way to Moscow as they had heard so much about western culture but could never actually observe it.