From McDonald’s to Five Guys: A history of burgers in Czechia

On International Burger Day, May 28, we take a look back at hamburgers in Czechia from the 'Mekáč' invasion of the '90s to today's best burger offerings.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 28.05.2024 16:38:00 (updated on 31.05.2024) Reading time: 4 minutes

Burgers may have originated as a humble ground beef patty between two slices of bread in the German city of Hamburg. Still, they have come to epitomize American dining culture worldwide. The hamburger’s international popularity results from the more extensive globalization of food – with its expansion becoming an economic touch point for the purchasing power of different countries.

The Czech Republic’s first-ever McDonald’s opened in 1992 in the wake of communism’s fall, offering customers their first taste of American fast food and global consumerism. (Juicy fact: McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc was born to Czech immigrants in Chicago in 1902.)

Over 30 years after that first Prague opening, burgers remain firmly entrenched in Czech culinary culture. From food trucks to pubs and fine dining establishments, burgers are almost always on the menu.

As a new era is unfolding with the arrival of the American burger chain Five Guys, which will open its first Prague branch in the renovated Máj department store at Národní třída (but not till autumn), we look back at Czechia’s burger timeline.

On March 20, 1992, an estimated 11,000 people stood in line for hours, hungry for a bite of their first McDonald’s burger. The country’s first "Mekáč" opened on Prague’s Vodičkova Street; the ceremony was attended by former child star and then U.S. Ambassador Shirley Temple Black.

A burger expert weighs in

To gain insight into Prague’s burger scene past and present, reached out to the Czech Republic's first English-language food blogger Brewsta, who has critiqued the capital’s food scene since 2007 and now posts as Czech Please on social media.

From “bad supermarket buns" to meat described as a “big, round lump with melted cheese on top,” Brewsta didn’t hold back. But in his decade-plus of compiling the ranking (which appeared on until 2020), he saw the city transform into a burger town.

When asked whether burger offerings have changed in the last 15 years, he told us: “Definitely. The quality and consistency of the burgers in the top places on the market are so much better than they used to be.”

Meaty milestones in Czech burger history

In 2016, Tom’s Burger chain in Prague made headlines for introducing a 22-carat Goldburger on its Vinohrady menu for CZK 2,800.

George Prime Steak introduced its Oligarch Burger in 2017; a beef patty topped with foie gras, truffle aioli, Brillat Savarin cheese, and slices of 24-carat gold. The burger, however, no longer appears to be on the GPS menu (sanctions, perhaps?).

Czech-made lab-grown pork burger / Photo via Mewery
Czech-made lab-grown pork burger / Photo via Mewery

In 2019, pioneering Dish {fine burger bistro} was named number three among the best burger spots in Europe. That same year, Burger King launched its first 100-percent meat-free Rebel Whopper across Czechia and was the first international fast-food chain to sell plant-based burgers in Prague. Also in 2019, the first Czech-made plant-based burger, ManaBurger, arrived on the local and global markets.

In 2023, Czech startup Mewery achieved a global first by creating a cell-cultured pork burger, blending pig cells with microalgae for enhanced nutrition. Mewery plans to enter international markets within the next two to three years. 

Today's 'smashing' burger scene

Data from Dotykačka shows that more than twice as many Czech restaurants offer burgers on the menu compared to 2019. Culinary insiders suggest that a shortage of qualified chefs may have also contributed to the burger boom.

According to Nielsen Atmosphere research McDonald’s (37 percent) and KFC (35 percent) are the most popular fast food chains. Among respondents aged 15-44, McDonald’s leads, while KFC ranks first with those over 45. Three out of 10 Czechs visit a fast food restaurant or bistro at least several times a month.

Burgers are also amongst Czechia's favorite delivery foods. Wolt recently named smash burgers on a list of its most-ordered foods. The platform also recognized restaurants across six different food categories for excellence. Fatfuck Smashburgers Jankovcova, (Prague) and Burger Inn (Brno), took top honors. Burger Inn, with menu items like the Jamie Fucking Oliver, Parmesan Ninja, and Space Goat Burgers, has hinted at a Prague opening.

Brewsta ranks his all-time favorite as Prague’s Kantýna due to its “quality, simplicity, and purity of flavor.” Its affordability is also a plus. Other contenders include Burgerman, Mr. HotDog, and Smashed.

Burger prices then and now

When McDonald’s opened in the early 1990s, a hamburger cost CZK 19 and a Big Mac CZK 48; with the average salary at CZK 5,900, a fast food burger was considered a luxury item. In 2022, the price of a McDonald’s cheeseburger rose to CZK 39, a historic increase of around 11 percent due to inflation.

But increasing wages have made fast-food burgers more affordable. In 1996, you could buy 182 McDonald’s Big Macs (at CZK 53 each) with a gross average monthly salary. In 2016, this doubled to 368 burgers (at CZK 75 each). Today, with Big Macs costing CZK 105, an average monthly Czech salary allows you to buy around 410 belt-busting burgers.

Speaking to Czechia's future burger scene Brewsta called Five Guys a great addition to the fast-food scene in Prague. "The ground beef is pretty tasty, and I love the variety of optional toppings. It’s much better than McDonald’s or Burger King.” The last time he was in the U.S. however, he was “shocked” at how expensive their burgers can be.

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