McDonald’s, my alumni group, just announced that U.S. 2010 4th quarter sales were up 4.4% in the U.S. Almost simultaneously, Nation’s Restaurant News announced that the number of independent U.S. restaurants declined 2% — losing some 5500 restaurants, in 2010 vs. 2009. The number of chain restaurants remained level. What’s going on? Rising commodity prices for groceries are tougher for independents to swallow than the more cost-efficient chains. As for McDonald’s, they continue to re-invest in “re-imaging” their restaurants, and coffees and other special beverages, together with strong promotions, are boosting brand appeal for the Golden Arches, though even McDonald’s sees some small price increases coming. As consumers, we need to watch for the bargains, as prices for almost everything, from groceries to gas, begin to climb. When I retired from McDonald’s at the Millennium, some 50 million customers a day were dropping by globally; Today it’s 62 million a day, and that still occasionally includes myself, as in this visit to a Shanghai McDonald’s last fall.