When McDonald’s first landed on the British Isles in 1974 nobody quite knew what to expect.
Crowds gathered outside a shiny new Americanised fast food outlet with golden arches that opened its doors in October in Woolwich, South East London.
But inside, the design of the franchise was fairly simple – it featured hand-carved wooden seats, pictures of cheesy models adorning the walls and an ashtray on each table.
Next to the counter was a menu advertising some of the cheapest food many families had ever seen.
The UK takeover: McDonald’s first British outlet in Woolwich, 1974
That’s because some 19 years earlier in the US, McDonald’s the company was founded by salesman Ray Kroc.
He discovered a restaurant run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald and was stunned by the effectiveness of their operation.
Their fast food outlet McDonald’s Bar-B-Q first opened on May 15, 1940 in San Bernardino, California – 75 years ago tomorrow.
The brothers developed a clear and successful business model; give people the cheapest food on a limited menu as fast as possible with no fancy frills.
And when the first UK store opened, a plain hamburger cost just 15p – a pinch of the £48 average UK weekly wage for working men at the time.
This was advertised as: “Made with 100% pure beef, topped with pickles, mustard and ketchup, served in a freshly toasted bun.”
The menu was very similar to today’s, including cheeseburgers costing 21p, which were described as “To the all beef hamburger, we add mellow golden cheese in the freshly toasted bun.”
Then “for a big appetite” there’s the Quarter Pounder, costing 40p, the Quarter Pounder with cheese at 45p and at the same price the “triple decker” Big Mac, with “McDonald’s own special sauce.”
Instead of the Filet-o-Fish, there’s the McMariner, which at 30p is a ‘tender fish steak’ with ‘McDonald’s special sauce.’
French fries ‘world famous for their crispiness’ would cost 12p for a small portion and just 19p for a large one.
Snack: McDonald’s introduce breakfasts to the US in 1977
Instead of happy meals, you could devour “The United Tastes of America,” which is a milkshake, burger and fries, for a bargain price of just 45p.
Completing the menu, is shakes costing 10p, hot and cold drinks ranging from 5p to 15p and the long standing ‘Hot Apple Pie’, which would set you back 15p.
The restaurant soared because of its bargain prices and the following year, in 1975, the first cinema advert screened in the UK, to be followed by TV adverts, which only added to its popularity.
Child’s play: The first Happy Meals arrive in 1979
The same year McDonald’s breakfasts were introduced in the US, with the Egg McMuffin leading the charge before the children’s Happy Meal was introduced in 1979.
Over the next decade, McDonald’s expanded across the UK and could afford to double their prices due to inflation.
In the mid 1980s, a cheeseburger cost 48p to eat in or 42p to take away, while a hamburger cost 43p and 37p respectively.
Eat in or take out? A 1980s McDonald’s menu
By the end of 1983, McDonald’s had gone global with 7,778 restaurants in 32 countries around the world.
The same year, chicken nuggets were invented, before being gradually introduced over the next few years as a healthier option to its UK outlets.
They were designed by McDonald’s first executive chef Rene Arend, who said: “The McNuggets were so well received that every franchise wanted them.”
Then on November 13, 1986, the first UK McDonald’s drive-thru opened in Fallowfield, Manchester.
The following year, freshly tossed salads were added, sparking a 20-year advertising campaign to appeal to healthy eaters.
McDonalds finally came to Ireland in 1977, opening on Dublin’s Grafton Street, and that restaurant is still there to this day.
These days, the business is struggling to put it mildly – not helped by a series of hygiene and health scandals that have decimated its business in Asia, and new, hipper franchises like Five Guys that have eaten into its American dominance.
The company, under new CEO Steve Easterbrook is on a major reboot drive in order to win back its business.
Unfortunately this has led to the Hamburglar being hipster-ised…
— Fast Company (@FastCompany) May 8, 2015
Honestly, what would 1980s Hamburglar think?
We still love you though Hamburglar. A very happy birthday to what, it’s probably safe to say, remains a worldwide institution.
But despite the change of image, the original items from the 1975 classic menu are still as popular today – even the apple pie.