With a ribbon cutting and a lion dance, Vietnam welcomed the city’s hottest new attraction: the first McDonald’s outlet. Vietnamese have been waiting for this moment for years. On opening day, Lai Thi Tuoi, a 34-year-old businesswoman, waits in line with hundreds of others for a Big Mac and fries.
“I’ve been to other countries and eaten McDonald’s there. So when I heard about it coming here I was excited. For the grand opening I brought my son to taste it, because he likes things like KFC. Whatever’s new in Vietnam, we should go try it.”
McDonald’s is the first chain in Vietnam to open 24 hours a day, and the first to have a drive-thru. Most Vietnamese have never used a drive-thru and hate standing in line, so McDonald’s workers are there to help them do both.
“The first drive-thru in Vietnam — that sounds pretty special to me.”
The company’s American CEO, Don Thompson, flew in to Vietnam from the Olympics in Russia, which McDonald’s is sponsoring.
“I’m actually looking forward to potentially riding a scooter through the drive-thru. I’ve never done that anyplace around the world.”
Vietnam is now the 38th country in Asia to have a McDonald’s. And the Ho Chi Minh City restaurant is the region’s 10,000th location. McDonald’s has also invented a new sandwich for Vietnam, as franchisee Henry Nguyen explains.
“Pork is such a staple of our diets here in Vietnam. We wanted to make sure that we had a product that everyone could also enjoy that was pork-based. For this restaurant, for Vietnam, we created McPork. We hope not only will it be consumed and enjoyed in Vietnam, but we hope over time it’s going to be enjoyed around the world.”
Even the US ambassador to Vietnam, David Shear, was at the opening ceremony to give a speech.
“McDonald’s will not only serve great food, but it will establish a first-rate Vietnamese supplier network. It will build a world-class supply chain, and train the next generation of Vietnam’s great managers and corporate leaders.”
But not everyone is happy about the arrival of McDonald’s saying that this will only add to Vietnam’s increasing rates of obesity and diabetes. A claim senior vice president Bob Larson denies.
“We offer a very nutritious, well-balanced range of products.”
Along with eating habits, the economy of Vietnam is changing. Several US-based fast-food chains have expanded into Vietnam starting with KFC in 1997, Starbucks last year, and now McDonald’s. Sean Ngo is the managing director of the consultancy Vietnam Franchises. He says McDonald’s reflects the country’s push towards capitalism.
“The country itself, as you know, is communist in name. But in terms of the economy, there has been a lot more flexibility, it has been more capitalistic than it has state-controlled. And in fact, the rate of privatization is following and mirroring what it was in China 10-15 years ago. So what you are seeing, in fact, is an embracing of capitalism.”
If that’s true, Vietnam is probably going to see a lot more McDonald’s in the future.