20 years of Big Macs as McDonald's marks Scottish anniversary

IT EMERGED in dreich Dundee like a beacon. As the lights were turned on, and the parabolic arches began to glow their golden hue, a modest shopfront in the City of Discovery became the first place in Scotland to experience one of the most potent symbols of globalisation.

Twenty years ago today, McDonald's made its arrival in Scotland. China In Your Hand, by T'Pau, fronted by Carol Decker, was at number one, Baroness Thatcher was preparing to welcome Mikhail Gorbachev on a state visit to help end the Cold War arms race, and High Streets had yet to become the procession of chain stores that we know today.

In the aptly named Reform Street, certainly, there were quality establishments; gents' tailors, modest local convenience stores and furniture makers. But shoppers craved the bright, brash American-inspired consumerism that McDonald's represented.

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On 23 November, 1987, their wishes were granted. "When we first started, we were unique not only to Dundee, but to all of Scotland," recalls Dave Jeffrey, the first manager of the branch, who was 26 at the time. "With our big bright lights and neon signs, we looked like a spaceship had just landed."

Two decades on, Mr Jeffrey is still running the restaurant, albeit as a fully fledged franchisee, having taken over in 1994. The outset of his career with McDonald's, he says, was a time of great excitement. The day before the grand opening, everything was in a state of flux. Workmen hurriedly fixed the plastic abstract panels to the walls and ensured the laminated menus were in place above the tills. To the back of the restaurant, in the kitchens, Mr Jeffrey could resist no longer.

He turned on the grill, cooked, and then ate Scotland's first Big Mac. To this day, it remains his favourite McDonald's product, despite the chain tapping into new trends by offering salads, trendy coffees and free wireless internet in a bid to keep customers from juice bars, coffee shops and delicatessens.

The following day, the first customers were able to sample the fare for themselves. "We weren't expecting the opening to be massively busy, but we were caught out," Mr Jeffrey explained. "There were queues from the very beginning. People wanted to find out what all the fuss was. No-one had a scooby doo what we were about, even though that's hard to imagine now. It turned out our store recorded the second busiest opening week after Marble Arch in London."

Not everyone has such fond memories. Lindsay Dalton-Hopwood was a 17-year-old schoolgirl in 1987. With a group of friends, she made her way to the fledgling restaurant shortly after its grand opening.

"I was a small-town girl back then and I looked on McDonald's the same way young girls might look on delicatessens now," she said. It offered something new and exotic."

"But when I walked in, it wasn't how we thought it would be. It wasn't as vibrant or fluorescent as the McDonald's you see nowadays. It was quite dark, in fact."

Her disappointment, however, lay not just with the interior. "The food was just so different, and horrible. My friends and I all just looked around at each other and thought, 'Is that it?'" It is a view many in Scotland went on to adopt with regard to McDonald's.

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Yet Mr Jeffrey warns against underestimating the sense of occasion felt on that November day. "There was a real deluge of people wanting to work in the restaurant," he said. "No-one expected it. We had hundreds of applications. There was a glamour about McDonald's then. The basic fact is, it was seen as an American icon."

It was an icon a long time coming. The first British McDonald's, in Woolwich, London, opened as long ago as 1974, and in the 13 years that followed, nations as far afield as Guatemala, Macau, Andorra, and the Bahamas were selected by the firm well ahead of Scotland. Even after the Dundee restaurant opened - chosen, Mr Jeffrey said, due to its ideal location and an amenable local planning authority - Kirkcaldy was next in line. Scotland's two main cities were forced to wait for the delights of the quarter- pounder.

But since then, the corporation's march on our towns and cities has assumed a breakneck pace, and there are now around 1,225 restaurants in the UK, serving two million customers a day.

With familiarity that sense of glamour appears inexplicable from the vantage point of 2007.

Mr Jeffrey reflected: "McDonald's was a major thing back in 1987. It was foreign and unusual. Now, it's all changed days. There are so many branches of McDonald's, and lots more competitors.

"We've had some tough times for the past few years and a lot of stick, but at the moment, I think McDonald's is enjoying a renaissance. Our food is still seen as a treat, and taste is everything. Ultimately, though, we're just part of ordinary life."


SUCH was the aura surrounding the iconic burger chain that it has hosted some unlikely customers.

At the large branch on Edinburgh's Princes Street in 1991, diners were astonished when Scotland's national rugby team, led by David Sole, trooped in for a hearty meal before taking on Western Samoa in a crucial World Cup match. It was a dietary decision that would raise eyebrows in today's professional rugby era, but the Big Macs appeared to have the desired effect, and Scotland triumphed 28-6.

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The same branch also hosted a University of Edinburgh gala dinner. After meeting at the Caledonian Hotel, guests were led across the street to the top floor of McDonald's, where the plastic tables were bedecked with tablecloths and a full set of cutlery.

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