The restaurant industry's royal line of succession has shifted, with Wendy's usurping Burger King as the second-largest burger chain, in sales, behind McDonald's.
In its annual ranking of U.S. restaurants, research group Technomic placed McDonald's — with its 5.5% boost in sales in 2011 to $34.2 billion — first among the nation's 500 largest eatery chains.
Next came two non-burger chains: Subway and Starbucks, each of which posted a 7.5% sales gain.
Wendy's placed fourth, with $8.5 billion in sales, followed by Burger King's $8.4 billion.
But Burger King's restaurant count still far outstrips Wendy's, making Wendy's move up the ladder more significant.
Both companies have undergone identity crises in recent years, with product revamps, management shuffles and marketing shake-ups.
Overall, Technomic said restaurant chain sales amounted to $242 billion in 2011. Technomic's figures account for sales from company-owned and franchised establishments, but don't reflect corporate revenue.
Sales rose 3.4% in 2011 — a pickup from the 1.8% increase in 2010.
International markets were more favorable for U.S. companies, with sales abroad up 6.4%. Food service companies such as Yum Brands, which owns KFC and Taco Bell, have recently pushed heavily into countries such as China, where a growing base of customers hungers for American-style fast food.