With the U.S. economy still struggling and consumer discretionary spending down, a number of restaurant chains are aggressively expanding into high-growth international markets.

McDonald’s is recognized as one of the strongest leaders in U.S. restaurant brand growth overseas with restaurants now in 119 countries around the globe.  The slow global economy has consumers all over the world looking for cheaper food alternatives, and McDonald’s is taking advantage of its place as one of the world’s leading preferable choice for discounted dining.

Leading the charge of McDonald’s growth in Latin America is Arcos Dorados Holdings.  The company owns and operates a growing number of McDonald’s franchises in Latin America and is expected by analysts to realize some very significant double-digit growth over the better part of the next decade as the company expands its franchise presence.

Yum! Brands, which includes such brands as KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, brought in $589 million in operating profits in 2010 from its operations outside of the United States and China, opening 884 new restaurants in over 75 countries in 2010, with roughly the same number of new international restaurants expected in 2011.  The company has said it plans to further its presence in the Middle East and India as well as targeting other high-growth areas.

Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full service restaurant company, is also gunning for international growth and has entered into an agreement with CMR SAB de CV to bring its brands, which include Olive Garden, Red Lobster, the Capital Grille, and Bahama Breeze,  to Mexico.  Darden said it expects to open thirty locations in Mexico over the next decade and is continuing its plans for Middle Eastern growth opportunities.