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A QUARTER of an hour before closing, the queue in front of the first Soviet McDonald’s was reduced to 300.

“We will continue until 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, leaving batches of 30 or 40 people in every five minutes.

On its first day of opening, over 20,000 people flocked to the fantastic 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 eaten a burger in their life.

Natalya Kaltshekh, a doctor in her forties, gazed out over the huge bay windows behind which happy Russians ate twice as fast as anything Moscow had ever offered.

She had only been in line for 15 minutes and was already at the front of the line. In her hand she held a copy of the multicolored menu distributed to people in line. “I’ve never eaten this kind of food,” she confessed. She had heard about McDonald’s on Soviet television.

People didn’t stay inside as long as management had feared. They were concerned that the customers were much slower than the food.

“Not at all,” said Mr. Godden. “They stayed on average the same time as anywhere else in the world.”

Many people had bought several portions to take home, he said. “They feed their families with it.”

Two young undergraduate computer science students, Volodya and Natasha Leshinsky, emerged smiling after about 40 minutes inside. When asked how it compared to typical Soviet cafes, Natasha replied, “The service is so good.”

They had previously eaten hamburgers in one of the new cooperative cafes, Volodya said. “But the meat is of poor quality and it was relatively more expensive, at least for what you got for your money. This place is world class”.

Half a dozen police stood by the piles of guardrails.

Earlier in the day, the queue had reached 2,000 people, winding back
through a zig-zag of barriers on the edge of Pushkin Square, Moscow’s Piccadilly Circus, a favorite hangout for strollers, except it has been remarkably devoid of neon until today.

It is now lit by McDonald’s golden yellow arch.

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

It took 14 years to bring McDonald’s to Moscow. The first one
overtures were made at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Unlike most other service joint ventures, this one only takes rubles.

Westerners in Moscow are surrounded by joint venture hotels,
restaurants, copy shops, film processing kiosks and grocery stores. None of them cater to the vast majority of Russians who don’t have access to hard currency.

McDonald’s did it differently. Its vice-president, George Cohon, remembers the moment a Russian looked at the plaque outside the door that said the service is for rubles only.

“It’s perestroika,” he beamed.