Western fast food: curiosity to part of daily life

By Zhang Hongpei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/12 21:08:40

A view of McDonald's first restaurant in the Chinese mainland located in Luohu district, Shenzhen, on October 8, 1990, the first day it started business Photo: Courtesy of McDonald's China

A view of the same restaurant on February 6 Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT

McDonald's, the well-known Western fast-food brand born in the US state of Illinois in 1955, entered the Chinese mainland in 1990, when people considered such food an exotic experience provided by China's reform and opening-up. The US food giant picked Shenzhen, the policy's test ground, as its launch pad.

Tracy Liang, dean of the Hamburger University of McDonald's China, was one of the 10 management trainees employed by the first outlet of McDonald's in the mainland, located in the Luohu district of Shenzhen.

The Hamburger University is a business school established in 2010 in Shanghai, where McDonald's China has its headquarters, to cultivate Chinese managers and support the growth of McDonald's in the Chinese market.

As the seventh branch of McDonald's corporate business school in the world, it cultivates Chinese managers and supports the growth of the restaurant chain in the Chinese market.

"At that time, foreign catering enterprises were uncertain about investing in China. But the founder of McDonald's Hong Kong, Daniel Ng, decided to take a chance on China's opening-up to the world and selected Shenzhen as the place to enter the market due to its proximity to Hong Kong, which could guarantee efficient staff and material support from a more developed market," Liang told the Global Times.

"Besides, people in Shenzhen, in the special economic zone where policies were relatively flexible, were more accepting of foreign goods and culture thanks to their frequent exchanges with Hong Kong," she noted.

Standing on its original site in Luohu district with three storeys, the first McDonald's outlet in China is still serving customers who line up to buy its hamburgers, fries and ice cream. The only difference is their view of Western fast food has changed a lot.

Liang still remembers the day when McDonald's opened in Shenzhen. It was October 8, 1990 and customers were eager to be the first to get a taste of the menu. The line stretched from the counter on the second floor to the street outside.

"It was popular to use Hong Kong dollars at that time and many people paid for their orders with currency notes of HK$500 or HK$1,000," Liang recalled. On the store's first Sunday in operation, sales hit a world record for McDonald's of 460,000 yuan (about $73,000 today).

But most of the customers, mainly Shenzhen's local people, did not know how to eat Western fast food at that time. "Their huge curiosity just pushed them to queue for it," she said.

"For example, many had trouble using forks and knives to eat pancakes, a traditional McDonald's breakfast product that is no longer on the menu in China, and they did not know how to cover the muffin with different sauces," Liang noted.

A 29-year-old woman surnamed Chen based in Central China's Hubei Province told the Global Times on Sunday that she had been to the first McDonald's store in 1998 with her mother.

"We ordered a Big Mac [the hit product of McDonald's] as well as fries and Coca-Cola. But I did not know how to eat the Big Mac. I thought it was eaten layer by layer from top to bottom … Then I noticed people around me were holding the burger together firmly and biting into it, so I followed suit," Chen noted.

"Looking back over the decades since McDonald's entered the Chinese market, people have come to accept Western fast food as a normal part of their daily lives," Liang said.

McDonald's China had more than 2,600 restaurants in the mainland by the end of 2017, and it served more than 1.3 billion orders last year. It plans to have 4,500 outlets by 2022, according to a note the company sent to the Global Times earlier.

Chinese conglomerate CITIC Group acquired a majority stake in the McDonald's restaurants in the mainland and Hong Kong in August 2017.

But speaking from the perspective of a foreign catering company, the "foreign investment environment is getting better and better and the local government is offering stronger support in China," Liang said.


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