The Top Choice Even Among Discerning Palates

Diane is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

I was at the food court recently in an upscale mall located in a rather affluent area.  It was just after Christmas, and most of the mall’s stores were packed with customers returning unwanted items or hunting for a bevy of rock bottom bargain priced items.

The food court was equally as busy as weary and hungry shoppers paused for a light snack, relaxing repast, or quick caffeine jolt to energize them so they could return back into the colossal crowds and fiercely brave the maddening mobs.

This particular food court was home to a vast and varied selection of eateries.  Healthy options included Salad Works and TCBY; Subway represented sandwiches; Nathan’s took care of hotdogs; Chick-Fil-A had chicken covered; Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and Cinnabon fixed  sugar and caffeine lows with donuts, pastries, and coffee;  and Sbarro’s and California Pizza Kitchen provided the pizza. Also crammed in this hungry eater’s paradise was a Chinese food hub, an outlet serving up Grecian foods, a Mexican fast-food station, a bagel joint and McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD).

And with all of these belly busting options, can you guess which one was busiest?

If you guessed McDonald’s, you are right. And notably absent were rival outlets from Yum Brands! (NYSE: YUM) and Wendy's (NASDAQ: WEN).

As I curiously sat and politely nibbled at my nutritious salad, a delightful medley of mixed greens and multicolored vegetables lightly dressed in a blissful vinaigrette, the line for McDonald’s grew longer and longer. I took a bite of my greens, smelled the nearby enticing aromas, and had second thoughts. For the montage of people waiting in McDonald’s queue, it was clear what customers were thinking about: burgers and fries.  The group was a mix of ethnicities, both male and female, in a variety of ages. Some were casually dressed, others a bit gussied up, and a few looked like they had just come from the gym. I became even more engrossed eyeing the diverse gathering and watched their takeaways. Burgers and Big Macs were the hands-down favorites, with a smattering of Filet-O-Fish wrappers and Chicken Club sandwiches gracing several trays. I didn’t see any salads or fruit and yogurt parfaits leaving with paying customers, but I did see those unmistakable red cardboard boxes overflowing with skinny, salty french fries on every single tray.

It got me thinking. Give a plethora of people a multitude of choices and most will opt for the good old standard.  

That observation also made me realize that McDonald’s should be on investor’s menu.

Shares of this fast food giant have floundered for much of 2012, leaving many to ask exactly: where’s the beef? But this franchise king looks poised to beef up in the new year. A handful of Wall Street firms, including Wells Fargo and Piper Jaffray have recently raised ratings and price targets on McDonald’s citing stronger global store comps in the latest quarter. The re-introduction of the chain’s coveted McRib sandwich, for a limited time, is also expected to buoy upcoming numbers. And while consumers have cut back on eating out, traffic at this causal, more affordable dining locale is notably picking up.  Mickey D’s also sports a healthy 3.52% dividend yield. It has paid a dividend since 1976, and has generously raised its distributions for 36 years in a row. Over the last decade, McDonald has rewarded shareholders with annualized return of 16.70%.

Yum Brands, the parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC, has a big and growing presence in emerging markets and China. International growth is the likely to be the driver for Yum's growth. And a good thing too; the company pockets over 70% of its profits from overseas growth. Meanwhile, revenue from locations in its more established and aging locations peppered across the U.S. has waned. The most recent data reveals that same stores sales in the U.S. dipped 1% in 2011.

Wendy's is making significant changes to its menu and operations, expanding value priced offerings and breakfast items. It also has plans to renovate some 50% of its existing stores. Obstacles for this company going forward will be managements’ ability to control costs while maintain its quality offerings. No question Wendy's future looks tasty, but it might be a while before the satisfying results are served up.

If all of that isn’t enough to sate prospective investors’ appetite, following are just few factoids that are sure to stoke cravings for the burger behemoth.

In a nod to McDonald’s global presence and popularity, the busiest McDonald’s is in Russia. Opened in 1990 in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, it serves some 40,000 customers daily.

At last count, there were 33,000 McDonald outlets peppered around the globe. It serves 1% of the world’s population daily.

McDonald’s makes an average of 6,480,000 hamburgers every day, and sells 4,500 hamburgers every minute, which amount to 75 sold every second.

McDonald’s hires roughly 1 million workers annually in the U.S. alone. The company estimates one in every eight Americans has been employed by McDonald’s.

The Queen of England owns, amid her vast real estate holdings, a McDonald’s within walking distance of Buckingham Palace.

Over the next three years, McDonald’s has plans on opening one restaurant every day in China, an unquestionable explosive market.

Its iconic golden arches are one of the most recognized logos in the world.

Chew on that for a while if you still aren’t convinced of McDonald’s prowess.

DianeAlter has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends McDonald's Corp. The Motley Fool owns shares of McDonald's Corp. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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