On this day in 2007, Beijing, China, the capital city of the planet’s most populous nation, gets its first drive-through McDonald’s restaurant. The opening ceremony for the new two-story fast-food eatery, located next to a gas station, included traditional Chinese lion dancers and a Chinese Ronald McDonald. According to a report from The Associated Press at the time of the Beijing drive-through’s debut: “China’s double-digit economic growth has created a burgeoning market for cars, fast food and other consumer goods. The country overtook Japan last year to become the world’s second-biggest vehicle market after the U.S., with 7.2 million cars sold, a 37 percent growth.”
Fast-food chains from foreign countries first came to China in 1987, with the opening of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. The home of the Big Mac and Happy Meal arrived in China three years later. In 2005, McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain, launched its first drive-through restaurant in China, in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, near Hong Kong. The Beijing drive-through was McDonald’s 16th Chinese drive-through. In September 2008, Chinadaily.com reported that other than America, “China is the No. 1 growth market for McDonald’s, with 960 restaurants and over 60,000 employees.”
McDonald’s opened its first drive-through in the U.S. in 1975. Before there were drive-throughs there were drive-in restaurants, where customers would place their orders at curbside speakers. Servers known as carhops, who often wore rollerskates, then would bring food orders directly to customers’ cars. Standard drive-in fare included hamburgers, hotdogs, root beer and milkshakes. Drive-ins reached the height of their popularity in the 1950s. Today, America’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants is Sonic, which started as a hamburger and root beer stand known as Top Hat Drive-In in 1953 in Shawnee, Oklahoma. It changed its named to Sonic in 1959 and today has more than 3,500 drive-ins.