US restaurant chains saw an annual sales growth rise of 1.8% in 2010, after reporting a fall of 0.8% in the previous 12 months, according to new research.

The latest annual data from Technomic found that systemwide sales at the 500 largest chains in the US rose 1.8% to $234bn in 2010, with more than half of the foodservice chains included in the research recording sales increases during the year.

The research also found that the top 10 fastest-growing chains increased sales 18% to $7.8bn during 2010 and expanded their collective system size by 14%.

Limited service chains, which account for over 80% of all US fast food restaurants grew at a rate of 2.5%.

Technomic found that only 231 chains reported annual sales declines last year, compared with 283 chains in 2009.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries was found to be the fastest growing restaurant chain, with sales up 38% to an estimated $625m and a 35% increase in the number of outlets it operated.

Ron Paul president of Technomic, said: “We are pleased to see improvements in the U.S. economy begin to translate into improved performance for the leading restaurant chains. The industry has a lot of ground to recover and still faces many challenges. But our latest findings on 2010 chain performance are certainly encouraging.”

Fast-casual and limited-service sandwich chains continue to be among the fastest-growing restaurant brands in the country. Alongside Five Guys, Jimmy John’s increased sales 22% to $735 million and increased its store count by 20%. Sales at Chipotle Mexican Grill increased to $1.83bn, while its estate grew by 14%.

Steak restaurants were the big winners in 2010, going from a 6.4 % sales decline in 2009 to a 2.2% rise last year. However, Technomic said that challenges for the category remained in the form of slowed unit expansion, restaurant closures and a decrease in traffic and average check.

The limited-service Asian category also had a good year, with sales across the sector up 9.3%, whilst limited-service pizza, doughnut, and coffee and other beverages operators also experienced strong performances.

Subway and McDonald’s, the world’s two biggest restaurant chains, also reported increases in sales, with the global burger chain seeing a 4.4% rise to $32.4bn Subway’s sales up 6% to $10.6bn.