The fast-food giant on Thursday reported that U.S. same-store sales grew 5.5{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, an improvement from the third quarter’s 4.6{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} increase. Staple menu items sold by the burger company boosted U.S. sales, McDonald’s said.

But tightened restrictions on businesses and indoor dining, particularly in Western Europe, dragged on business abroad, McDonald’s said. Fourth-quarter sales at international restaurants that McDonald’s runs were down 7.4{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} from a year earlier, improving on the previous quarter’s 10.1{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} decline.

Overall, McDonald’s said costs related to the pandemic, including spending on safety equipment and marketing, ate into profit during its latest period. The company reported earnings, adjusted for one-time items, of $1.70 a share for the quarter, missing analysts’ expectations of $1.77 a share. Revenue of $5.3 billion for the quarter also came in slightly below projections.

Chief Executive

Chris Kempczinski

said McDonald’s has benefited from to-go service, a simplified menu and its secure supply chain during the pandemic. “While a new year brings hope, the issues and uncertainty that emerged last year persist,” Mr. Kempczinski said during an investor call.

Shares were up 1{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} to $209.

A surge in Covid-19 cases depressed sales across many consumer sectors late last year. For restaurants, the impact was especially acute in places that required them to shut their dining rooms again.

Other restaurant companies have said stepped-up restrictions are affecting their business.

Starbucks Corp.

on Tuesday said U.S. same-store sales were down 8{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} in December compared with a year earlier, a downturn from sales by that measure in October and November. Chili’s parent

Brinker International Inc.

said Wednesday that renewed restrictions had hurt sales particularly after Illinois and California banned indoor dining again.

McDonald’s has relied on drive-throughs to help preserve U.S. sales during the pandemic. A smaller proportion of the chain’s restaurants have drive-throughs outside the U.S. McDonald’s said it expects pandemic-related restrictions to affect its sales outside the U.S. as long as the pandemic persists.

The chain said menu staples such as Big Macs and Egg McMuffins are boosting U.S. sales at all times of day. Mr. Kempczinski said store operations have benefited from a slimmed-down menu during the pandemic, and that new additions would be limited.

One new addition in the U.S. is a Southern-style fried-chicken sandwich, a hot product for fast-food chains. “New items must earn their place on the menu,” he said.

As the Biden administration seeks to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the National Restaurant Association trade group has said such an increase would badly hurt operators at a time when many are suffering from the impact of the pandemic.

Mr. Kempczinski said he expects that the minimum wage will rise, and anticipates being able to manage it as long as increases are introduced gradually and are consistent across markets. McDonald’s will likely raise some menu prices and look to use its labor more efficiently in the event of higher wages, he said.

For the quarter, McDonald’s reported earnings of $1.84 a share on income of $1.4 billion, down 12{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} from the previous year. McDonald’s said it incurred higher costs related to the closure of some restaurants during the quarter, including some in

Walmart Inc.

stores.

As restaurants struggle to survive during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chef-Owner of Red Rooster, Marcus Samuelsson, spoke with WSJ’s Lorie Hirose about change, history and hope. Photo: Lev Radin/Zuma Press

McDonald’s said last year that it was closing around 200 U.S. restaurants, more than half of them low-volume locations in Walmart stores.

McDonald’s expects to close some 325 U.S. restaurants in 2021, mostly a further pruning of Walmart locations. It anticipates opening more than 1,300 restaurants globally and spending about $2.3 billion to help fund new locations and renovate existing ones, roughly half of the spending in the U.S.

Write to Heather Haddon at [email protected]

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