McDonald's comes roaring back as restrictions ease

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A thank you sign sits in front of a McDonald's restaurant, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Waukee, Iowa. The burger giant said Thursday, April 29 its first quarter sales surpassed even those in 2019, led by a big jump in U.S. demand. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The bounce back for McDonald's as restrictions were lifted across the U.S. was so strong in the first quarter that the company surpassed sales during the same period even in 2019, long before the pandemic broadsided the country.

McDonald's revenue jumped 9% to $5.1 billion for the January-March period, better than most had expected.

Last year at this time stores were closing globally as the world sheltered from spiking COVID-19 infections, so an improvement in sales during the same stretch this year was expected. How easily it topped 2019's first-quarter sales of $4.95 billion, however, was not.

U.S. same-store sales, or sales at locations open at least a year, rose 13.6% in the January-March period. Fewer diners visited, and many dining rooms remain closed. But those who did visit ordered more, with many picking up food for the entire family rather than for one person.

A new round of federal stimulus checks likely boosted first quarter sales, said McDonald’s U.S. President Joe Erlinger said. New products, including a long-awaited crispy chicken sandwich and spicy nuggets, also outperformed, he said.

“The positivity we saw in the first quarter was way beyond just the stimulus checks,” Erlinger said during a conference call Thursday with investors.

Drive-thru windows __ available in nearly all U.S. stores __ remain a competitive advantage. McDonald's said around 90% of its U.S. sales came through drive-thru windows in the first quarter, up from around 70% before the pandemic. The company has made multiple changes to speed drive-thru times, including a more simple menu.

Demand for delivery has spiked for McDonald's as well and is now available at 75% of its stores worldwide. Delivery orders tend to be larger than in-store orders.