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Photos show what it was like to eat at McDonald's in the 1980s

Photos show what it was like to eat at McDonald's in the 1980s
LifeThelife1 min read
A drive-thru McDonald's in Los Angeles, March 1983.Barbara Alper/Getty Images
  • The first McDonald's franchise opened in Des Plaines, Illinois, on April 15, 1955.
  • Chicken nuggets were introduced to the menu in 1983.

By the 1980s, McDonald's was already a well-established fast-food chain with an iconic menu and signature branding.

Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald's franchise location in Des Plaines, Illinois, on April 15, 1955. That year, he founded McDonald's System, Inc., which would become the McDonald's Corporation we know today.

By 1958, McDonald's had sold 100 million burgers, and the restaurants had taken on a signature design style that prominently featured the chain's iconic "golden arches."

The 1980s were a major period of growth for McDonald's.

According to a Deseret News report from 1990, McDonald's restaurant sales reached $1.62 million in 1989, compared to $1 million in 1979, and sales outside the US grew from $900 million in 1979 to $5.3 billion in 1989.

While some aspects of eating at McDonald's have remained the same, some feel like iconically '80s.

Here's what it was like to eat at McDonald's in the 1980s.

Some McDonald's restaurants in the 1980s retained the original restaurant design from the 1950s and '60s.

Some McDonald
McDonald's restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1980.      Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Architect Stanley Meston designed the original look for McDonald's restaurants, which featured a red-and-white color scheme. When the McDonald brothers first saw the design for their new restaurant, they were concerned that the roof was too flat.

Meston recommended adding the now-iconic golden arches to the building's roof to create a more dimensional look. The oldest still-operating restaurant featuring the original red-and-white design is located in Downey, California.

While some restaurants continued to feature the golden arches, other storefronts looked more modern.

While some restaurants continued to feature the golden arches, other storefronts looked more modern.
The exterior of a branch of a McDonald's in London in 1985.      Harry Dempster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This London restaurant, pictured in 1985, looks remarkably similar to urban McDonald's restaurants of today.

Some restaurants were built into large colonial-looking buildings.

Some restaurants were built into large colonial-looking buildings.
Outside a McDonald's as people eat at picnic tables in August 1985.      Steve Liss/Getty Images

This outdoor courtyard with its wooden tables and benches looks quite different from most McDonald's seating areas today.

This Sydney restaurant featured a large skylight and modern seating.

This Sydney restaurant featured a large skylight and modern seating.
A McDonald's restaurant in Sydney, Australia, circa 1986.      Stuart William MacGladrie/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

There are still fancy, unique McDonald's restaurants around today.

By the 1980s, many of McDonald's iconic menu items had been rolled out.

By the 1980s, many of McDonald
A London McDonald's restaurant in January 1985.      Harry Dempster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before the 1960s, the McDonald's menu was simple. It included burgers, cheeseburgers, fries, milkshakes, and other fast-food classics. The first new item to be added to the national menu was the Filet-O-Fish sandwich in 1965.

In 1968, the Big Mac was released nationwide, followed by the Quarter Pounder with cheese in 1973. In 1979, Happy Meals were introduced for the first time.

Chicken McNuggets were added to menus in 1983.

Chicken McNuggets were added to menus in 1983.
A woman holds a tray of McDonald's food circa 1988.      Steve Kagan/Getty Images

USA Today reported that many customers in the 1980s were looking to reduce their fat intake and were shaking up their diets by introducing more lean protein and poultry and cutting out red meat.

For McDonald's, adding chicken to the menu was a no-brainer.

Employees wore striped bowling-style shirts and hats.

Employees wore striped bowling-style shirts and hats.
An employee puts orders onto a conveyor belt which delivers food to the drive-in section of the McDonald's restaurant in 1984.      Alan Gilbert Purcell/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Today, employees often wear T-shirts that reflect the chain's most popular and current promotions, like the Travis Scott or Saweetie meals, or grey polos with yellow accents.

Celebrities like British metal band Motorhead were spotted taking photos at McDonald's.

Celebrities like British metal band Motorhead were spotted taking photos at McDonald
British metal band Motorhead at a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago, Illinois, August 5, 1983.      Paul Natkin/Getty Images

For '80s McDonald's-goers, the restaurant was a symbol of America — which translated into the chain's advertising campaigns.

In honor of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, McDonald's introduced the slogan "If the US wins, you win." McDonald's customers would receive a scratch-off ticket that revealed a certain sporting category with every purchase.

If a US Olympian won gold in that category, they could exchange the ticket for a free Big Mac, The New York Times reported. A silver earned you free french fries, and a bronze medal won customers a free Coke.

Even then-President Ronald Reagan was photographed chowing down on a McDonald's burger.

Even then-President Ronald Reagan was photographed chowing down on a McDonald
President Ronald Reagan takes a bite of a Big Mac, as Charles Patterson chats with him during a brief campaign stop in 1984.      Bettmann/Getty Images

According to the Tuscaloosa News, customers were startled when Reagan made an unscheduled stop at the Alabama McDonald's in 1984.

"The President of the United States ordered a Big Mac, a large order of fries and sweet tea, proffered a $20 bill from his right front pant pocket, got his $17.54 in change, and looked around for a place to enjoy his meal," a reporter on the scene later wrote in 2006.

When asked about the last time he had eaten at McDonald's, Reagan replied that it was before he "got this job."

"But I kind of miss it sometimes," he continued. "I figured as long as I had the opportunity, I might as well take advantage of it and stop."

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