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Opening of the First McDonald’s in Moscow: When Five Thousand People Stood in Line to get a Hamburger, 1990

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.

#2 On January 30th of 1990 the first McDonalds eatery opened in Moscow.

On January 30th of 1990 the first McDonalds eatery opened in Moscow.

It was also the first one in the whole country – in the Soviet Union. They say they were holding talks with Soviet officials about opening this venture for over 20 years – since 1976. Also, they offered 51% ownership of the venture to the Soviet state.

#3 At first, before opening the restaurant, McDonalds started building a factory to produce the buns and other ingredients.

At first, before opening the restaurant, McDonalds started building a factory to produce the buns and other ingredients.

So in 1989 it was ready and over 50 million dollars had been invested in it.

#4 Then they started constructing the restaurant itself.

Then they started constructing the restaurant itself.

Canadian managers of McDonalds were key figures in making this happen, so they were coming to Moscow in person to see how the construction was going.

#6 It was the largest McDonalds in the world at the time of the construction and even today remains the largest one in Europe.

#10 Over 35,000 people applied for a job in what would be the first ever foreign restaurant in the Soviet Union, and around 600 people were accepted.

#24 The cost of a hamburger was $1.50, which was roughly 1.50 roubles when an average salary was 150 roubles.

Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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