Police kept order as fast food revolution began in Prague 25 years ago

Photo: Filip Jandourek

A taste of the West was the slogan used by another very different company, though in this case it was perhaps more appropriate. And the interest was huge when the first McDonald’s hamburger restaurant opened its doors 25 years ago in what was still Czechoslovakia on March 20, 1992.

McDonalds on Vodičkova St.,  Prague | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
It’s reckoned that altogether 11,000 people queued up outside the new restaurant on Prague’s central Vodičkova Street to order and sink their teeth into a symbol of capitalism. Police had to erect crowd barriers to keep order. Tomasz Rogacz is the current manager of McDonalds in the Czech Republic and reflects on the anniversary:

"Twenty five years ago it was the event. It was something new, it was something exciting and something shining. Now it is part of everyday life and we are trying to keep up with changing customer needs and that is why we are mainly focusing on the quality and in the future on personification. ʺ

In the not so distant future you should be ordering your fully customised and tailor made hamburger. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Back in 1992, the price of the hamburger was 19 crowns, today it’s just a bit more at 26 crowns for the basic offer. But a lot has changed in the quarter of a century since. What was then taken for Western standards of service and quality might now often be taken for granted.

And the rise in Czech wages means that while for an average monthly wage in 1992 you might be able to treat yourself to 244 hamburgers, less than one a day for the three main meals for a single person. Now for the same monthly income you could buy 1,223, or enough for a family of four to gorge themselves for a whole month.

It was not long before the success story spread outside Prague. The first restaurant outside the capital opened a year later in the eastern city of Ostrava. And there was even a famous photograph of the former general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Miloš Jakeš, sitting down for a McDonald’s meal a few years later.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
Now, there are 95 McDonald’s restaurants across the country and it is still the leading fast food chain, though some others, such as KFC, are not so very far behind and many are now competing for the same slice of the market.

In spite of the initial furore back in 1992, McDonald’s basic offer was fairly simple. Since then the initial gloss and excitement has certainly disappeared and the chain has had to innovate to keep up and keep ahead. Children’s meals with games, breakfasts, coffee and cakes, self service kiosks, and an attempt to give a healthier image to the overall offer are some of the innovations.

And the trend in the Czech Republic like the rest of the world is now for the McDonald’s parent company to be more the guardian of the brand and innovator with many of the restaurants – 82 percent in the case of the local market – operated as franchises and the main earnings coming from the related fees.