The First McDonald’s in Hungary: “Tasting the Capitalism”

By: Phyllis Speser, CEO

Foresight again sponsored and exhibited at the ASTP-Proton Annual Conference this year.  A delightful part of the ASTP-Proton Annual Conference is a walking city tour the first afternoon.  This year we strolled downtown Pesh, one side of the river in Budapest. Our tour guide, George, stopped in front of a McDonalds to inform us it was the first McDonalds in Hungary, opened shortly after the Soviets left. It is also the fanciest one the world. The building is the old railway station, which was built in 1877 by the Eiffel Company. That firm is better known for its Eiffel Tower project in Paris.


Prior to being a McDonalds, Budapest’s Western Railway Station housed an old and very posh family-run restaurant – the kind where you had to dress well to eat well. The last of the family wanted out of the restaurant business but no-one wanted to buy the restaurant. So owner decided to sell the building and shutter the business. As it was a prime downtown location. McDonalds wanted it for their first Hungarian operation.


There was one unusual provision in the sale according to George: For a period of some years, sufficient for the prior generation to die off, the dress code had to be maintained. Now normally you’d think that would kill the deal, but someone in McDonalds was clever. At that time, there was pretty much only two kinds of meat in Hungary after years of Communism: high end (the kind the restaurant had served) or low-end (like greasy goulash and sausages). The hamburgers we Westerners have come to hate or love fell in-between by local standards. This enabled positioning McDonalds as a purveyor of middle class meat for the masses, which after the shortages and hardships plus brutality of the Soviet-backed regime was something to celebrate, something worth dressing up for so you could “Taste the Capitalism.” Which was the marketing slogan McDonalds used to introduce the store into Hungary.


There is a takeaway for those of us in the tech business. Innovation has a social dimension. The timing of McDonalds’ first restaurant in Budapest made eating there a celebration of freedom. Hence people had no problem dressing up to go for a burger. We call that “leveraging a market driver.” World historical change is a powerful market driver.


The equivalent world historical change today is global climate change. Innovations which address or mitigate it will be celebrated just as the first McDonalds was in its day.

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