I was once told a story by an American who found himself working in Russia in the early 1990s. He had met a fellow American who was involved with the opening of McDonald’s in Moscow, and the latter was finding things rather frustrating, particularly when trying to introduce western standards of customer service to the staff. Apparently, he told one of the Russia servers to greet the customers and offer a smile, which prompted the following response:
“Why? We’re the ones with all the burgers.”
It seems that almost 25 years later some Russians still haven’t worked out the basic relationship between business and customer as far as McDonald’s is concerned:
Russia’s consumer watchdog has announced unscheduled checks on McDonald’s restaurants across Russia as part of a probe into food standards.
The move comes after watchdog Rospotrebnadzor temporarily shut four McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow.
The actions come amid rising tensions and sanctions between Russia and the West over the crisis in the Ukraine.
The regulator denied the checks were politically motivated. McDonald’s said “top quality” food was its priority.
The regulatory agency said: “There are complaints about the quality and safety of the products in fast food restaurant chain McDonald’s.”
BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg said: “The suspicion is that because McDonald’s is one of the symbols of America, that’s why it’s encountering problems now.”
Russian MPs have also called for checks on other US fast-food brands, including Burger King and KFC, he said.
“It does seem, if not the public, then the people in power, are losing their appetite for American fast food,” he added.
The primary beneficiary of McDonald’s in Russia are those Russians wishing to purchase its products, who number in the millions. (This point was driven home to me once when somebody in Sakhalin asked me, in all seriousness, to bring him a Big Mac meal from Moscow when I returned from a business trip. The flight is 9 hours.)
The secondary beneficiary of McDonald’s in Russia are the Russian owners (it is a franchise), managers, employees, and suppliers whose income derives from its operations. As somebody with a greater grasp of economics than a Russian policymaker points out:
“It’s an extraordinary decision, because McDonald’s is the great symbol of the West, but at the same time they’ve set up the most extraordinary network of suppliers in Russia to keep the whole system going.
“There are now something like 300 McDonald’s across the country, and they’ve got an enormous network of people providing them with potatoes, and beef, and everything that goes into the product… In fact, it’s going to hit an enormous number of people inside Russia.”
I am quite certain that those who have ordered these closures have no idea of the impact that this will have on ordinary Russians (and even if they did, they wouldn’t care) and genuinely think that Americans are making billions of dollars as the only beneficiaries of McDonald’s operations in Russia.
To find such economic ignorance you’d really have to go to…well, Russia. 25 years ago. Plus ça change.