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A QUARTER of an hour to closing time, the queue outside the first Soviet McDonald ‘s was down to 300.

‘We’ll go on to midnight if necessary to serve all these good people,’ Mr George Godden, the operations manager, promised as he stood at the front of the line in Moscow last night, letting batches of 30 or 40 people in every five minutes.

On the first day of its opening more than 20,000 people streamed into the fantasy-land restaurant which is not only bigger than any other in the world but also more lavish in its decor. Most of the customers had never had a hamburger in their lives.

Natalya Kaltshekh, a doctor in her early forties, gazed at the huge plate glass windows behind which happy Russians were tucking into food twice as fast as anything else Moscow has ever offered.

She had only been queuing for 15 minutes and was already at the front of the line. In her hand she held a copy of the multi-coloured menu given out to people in the queue. ‘I have never eaten this kind of food,’ she confessed. She had heard about McDonald ‘s on Soviet television.

People did not stay inside as long as the management had feared. They had worried that customers would be much slower than the food.

‘Not a bit of it,’ said Mr Godden. ‘They’ve stayed on average just the same time as anywhere else in the world’.

Many people had bought several portions to take home, he said. ‘They’re feeding their families on this.’

A couple of young computer science undergraduates, Volodya and Natasha Leshinsky, emerged smiling after about 40 minutes inside. Asked how it compared with typical Soviet cafes, Natasha said: ‘The service is so good’.

They had eaten hamburgers before at one of the new co-operative cafes, Volodya said. ‘But the meat is poor quality, and it was relatively more expensive, at least for what you were getting for your money. This place is world class’.

Half a dozen policemen stood around near stacks of crash barriers.

Earlier in the day the queue had been up to 2,000, snaking back
through a zig-zag of barriers on the edge of Pushkin Square, Moscow ‘s Piccadilly Circus, a favourite spot for strollers, except that it has been remarkably devoid of neon until today.

Now it is lit up by McDonald ‘s trademark golden yellow arch.

The restaurant is a joint venture between the Moscow City Council and McDonald ‘s Canadian subsidiary.

It has taken 14 years to get McDonald ‘s to Moscow . The first
overtures were made at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Unlike most other joint ventures in the service field this one only takes roubles.

Westerners in Moscow are surrounded by joint venture hotels,
restaurants, xeroxing offices, film processing kiosks, and food shops. None of them cater for the vast majority of Russians who have no access to hard currency.

McDonald ‘s has done it differently. Its vice-president, George Cohon, remembers the moment when one Russian looked at the plaque outside the door which says that service is for roubles only.

‘This is perestroika,’ he beamed.

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