Today In History: First Beijing McDonald's Drive-Thru Opens

Today In History |

January 19, 2007

Today in 2007, the first ever drive-through McDonald's restaurant opened in Beijing, China. The McDonald's was an impressive one - two stories tall, located next to a gas station. The opening ceremony was impressive as well. They brought in a group of traditional Chinese lion dancers, as well as a Ronald McDonald.

The Associated Press reported, “China’s double-digit economic growth has created a burgeoning market for cars, fast food and other consumer goods. The country overtook Japan last year to become the world’s second-biggest vehicle market after the U.S., with 7.2 million cars sold, a 37 percent growth.

McDonald's, as well as other fast food chains, first started opening locations in China in 1987. Kentucky Fried Chicken was the first, beating McDonald's by three years. The first McDonald's drive-thru was not in Beijing, but in Shenzen, Guangdong province.

The drive-thru opened in Beijing was the sixteenth McDonald's drive-thru opened in China. The project to expand into the Chinese market has been very successful for the fast food megalith. According to chinadaily.com, "China is the No. 1 growth market for McDonald's, with 960 restaurants and over 60,000 employees."

The first American McDonald's drive-thru opened in 1975. The drive-thru was an update on the older model of drive-in fast food restaurants, in which customers would park their cars and place orders through curbside speakers or with actual servers. The "carhop," or drive-in server, is an icon of Americana, delivering burgers, shakes and fries to cars on roller skates. Unlike modern times, it was very common to serve hot dogs along with hamburgers.

The drive-in reached peak popularity during the 1950's but was rapidly replaced with drive-thrus when they were introduced. They offered more convenience for customers with less time commitment. The drive-in did not, however, die off completely. A few drive-ins are still hanging on. Sonic is the most successful chain restaurant to use the drive-in model.

The drive-thru is now a ubiquitous feature of fast food, and more and more chains are adopting it. Starbucks now offers drive-thrus, and, infamously, some bars in Louisiana offer drive-thru alcohol vending.

McDonald's and other fast food chains are poised to continue expanding extensively and rapidly, both in China and in America. They have survived the bad PR firestorm of the mid-aughts virtually unscathed. They are also holding strong in the face of "fast casual," a new kind of chain restaurant, like Panera and Chipotle, that offer a middle ground between traditional grab-and-go fast food and the sit-down restaurant.

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Matt

Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.