Muscovites Have Fallen in Love With a Pair of Golden Arches
McDONALD'S IN SOVIET CAPITAL
MISHA ROGOZHNIKOV sits back on the standard-issue McDonald's plastic seat and watches with great anticipation as his American friend prepares to sample her first Big Mac on Soviet soil. ``Well?'' he enquires. ``Does it taste the same?''Skip to next paragraph
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``Pretty close,'' I reply. ``The catsup is different - it's sharper. And there are more duds in the fries than I'm used to seeing at home.'' But yes, Misha, this is the genuine article, an assurance that somehow imparts a sense that his long-isolated country has moved one small step closer to inclusion in the civilized world.
Misha likes to come here not so much for the food, he says, but for the service and the atmosphere. Even the slightly goofy scale models of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower that decorate the restaurant are fun, says the usually dismissive reporter. In fact, a random sampling of customer opinion on a recent Saturday here found that the food itself was never the top item in anyone's review of the restaurant.
``Everybody was so helpful and polite!'' squealed a girl from Rostov-on-Don visiting Moscow with a group from summer camp. The others, clutching large bags of food for that night's supper, nodded in agreement.
``My favorite thing was the bathroom - so modern and clean,'' added their camp counselor.
Indeed, the constant attention to cleanliness throughout the restaurant contrasts sharply with standard Soviet practice, in which most food establishments close down once a month for a ``sanitary day,'' leading one to wonder what they do for sanitation on the remaining 29 or 30 days.
The demand for food at the Moscow McDonald's is so high that the restaurant wouldn't dare take a break from its 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year schedule. From opening day on Jan. 31, 1990, it's been the busiest McDonald's in the world: 50,000 customers a day, consuming 13,000 Big Macs and 11,000 apple pies. The initial hiring of 650 crew members proved inadequate, and the staff is now up to 1,150 people.
When you enter Moscow's McDonald's, your appetite whetted by the hour-or-so wait in line, it's the frenzy of activity behind the counter that makes an immediate impression. Scores of Soviet teens in maroon shirts scurry about behind a gleaming row of 27 cash registers, taking and filling orders and crying out almost frantically, arms waving, ``Come here! We're free!'' when a register is open. At the end of every transaction, the customer gets a warm smile and big thank-you.
What makes these young people try so hard? ``It's a fun place to work,'' says Glen Steeves, a Canadian who is area supervisor of the Moscow McDonald's joint venture.
``We train them, we offer the opportunity to work as a member of a team. There's job rotation, so on any given day each worker gets to do a variety of different things. There's the possibility to be promoted and earn bonuses. And we arrange fun activities.''
Recently, McDonald's hired a large boat and a rock band and sent 500 of the staff on a dance-cruise down the Moscow River.