9 things fast food is doing right

  • REUTERS

    People love to hate fast food. The industry peddles cheap, low-quality fare. It teaches kids bad eating habits. Its deep-fried calories are contributing to the obesity epidemic and other health problems plaguing the nation.

    But for all the animosity, fast food is still a massive industry in the U.S. McDonald's (MCD), by far the heavyweight in the sector, reported sales of $27.4 billion last year. Sales were down slightly more than 2 percent from the previous year, though.

    McDonald's slump is a clear sign that times are changing for fast food. For one, children are eating less of it. A recent study in JAMA Pediatrics found that the percentage of children eating fast food on any given day fell to 32.6 percent in 2009 and 2010 from 38.8 percent a few years earlier.

    Diners may be close to an inflection point of sorts, with many -- especially younger ones -- demanding healthier items with higher-quality ingredients. Yet others want prices to stay low and drive-thrus to get faster. It's a tough spot for many restaurant chains to be in. But this is a savvy bunch, and they're starting to adapt to the times. Sure, we hear plenty about their stumbles, but it turns out a few of them are making some smart business moves.

    Click ahead to see 9 things that fast food companies are doing right.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.