McDonald's brings Big Mac to Beijing Fast food outlet outdoes Moscow's

April 23, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- The world's largest McDonald's -- and the only one with its own Communist Party unit -- opened here today amid much hoopla, considerable Chinese curiosity and big expectations for profit.

A huge, inflatable Ronald McDonald lashed to the roof of the two-story restaurant continually flopped around in the capital's strong spring winds. Inside, hundreds of newly trained, relentlessly cheerful employees nervously hand-polished its 28,000-square-foot interior in anticipation of its first customers.

The McDonald's opening "represents the spring wind of reform coming to Beijing," Tie Ying, general secretary of the Beijing government, said during opening ceremonies.

More than 1,000 Chinese were in line when the outlet's doors first opened, including some peasants who mistakenly believed that free food would be given out. Some had waited more than three hours.

"McDonald's is everywhere, and now it has come to Beijing. This shows that Beijing has been internationalized," said a worker in his early 30s, Zhu Hai Dong, among the first to dig into a Big Mac.

Called "Maidanglao" in Chinese, the Beijing outlet offers an abbreviated, virtually indistinguishable version of the fast-food chain's U.S. menu. Its gleaming surroundings and snappy service contrast starkly with most local eateries.

OC The store has 700 seats, can serve up to 50,000 customers a day

and is eight times larger than the typical U.S. McDonald's outlet. It sits at the head of Beijing's busiest shopping street, directly across from the famed Beijing Hotel.

Company executives say the outlet is even larger than their 2-year-old store in Moscow's Pushkin Square, which is the sales leader among the chain's more than 12,000 stores in 61 nations.

"This will probably be the busiest McDonald's in the world," Michael R. Quinlan, McDonald's Corp. chairman, predicted.

The Beijing restaurant is China's third McDonald's, following the opening of two outlets in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone adjacent to Hong Kong. Beijing also has four Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, a Pizza Hut and a Dairy Queen.

McDonald's officials plan to invest $50 million in China over the next few years, as part of a rapid expansion of their international operations. They have signed contracts to open outlets in Shanghai and Canton, and are considering several more Beijing sites.

"The McDonald's philosophy is to take a very long-term view," said James R. Cantalupo, McDonald's International president. "We're interested in growth and expansion."

Company officials say 95 percent of the food at the Beijing outlet has been produced in China, including beef processed by a venture set up in China by McDonald's U.S. supplier. McDonald's ultimately plans to use China as a major supplier for the almost 1,500 McDonald's units in Asia.

McDonald's has been working for four years on the several-million-dollar, 50-50 joint venture with a huge Beijing conglomerate that runs more than a 1,000 other enterprises.

But almost eight years ago it began trying to find a way to grow an oblong-shaped potato here of consistent density that would lend itself to the mass production of french fries.

The product according to some Western taste testers, could use a little more work.

A hamburger, regular french fries and a small soda cost the equivalent of $1.81 at the Beijing outlet, slightly higher than at McDonald's Hong Kong franchises and very pricey for many Beijingers, whose per capita income averages about $31 a month.

Drawn by the preparations for the outlet's opening, however, many Chinese gathered outside the restaurant this week, peering in its windows and excitedly discussing such oddities as a "Juwuba" or "Big Mac."

"I've had one once when I went to Belgium," said Yi Cuoxin, 50. "It was just OK. But the place certainly is clean."

McDonald's rigid but successful standards of cleanliness and service were a main focus of several months of training for the outlet's more than 900 employees.

"If we are friendly and happy all the time", said Wang Lei, a hostess,"maybewe can give customers a good feeling and they will come back again".

During trial runs, workers were on their knees cleaning spots on floors with small pieces of cloth. Four employees stood behind each of 29 cash registers, competing to take orders while managers used megaphones to prompt them to repeatedly chant "Welcome to McDonald's."

Workers receive about $65 to $160 a month on a straight hourly basis -- an unusual arrangement in a land where foreign ventures are often saddled with employee housing and various welfare costs.

Also absent from the store is much sign of the Communist Party, though the outlet's deputy managing director also serves as its party secretary. He is the only such official at any McDonald's in the world, the chain's executives believe.

The party's role will be minimal at McDonald's, said Xing Chunhua, general manager of the Chinese partner, explaining, "I don't think the party committee in this restaurant will take up working time for political studies."

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