In theory, fast-food chains are almost invulnerable to recessionary forces: When consumers feel the pinch, fast food becomes more appealing. This time round, though, many fast-food chains have struggled to maintain revenues, and increasingly desperate loss-leader promotions have eaten into the companies' profitability. Now some companies are switching tack, adding premium products to their menus to boost profit margins, while others are shifting their energies to less saturated markets in China, Russia and Europe.

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