After the weakest year in more than a decade, the U.S. restaurant industry appears to be recovering, thanks largely to fast-food outlets, according to the NPD Group.

The sales- and marketing-information company reports that traffic at fast-food hamburger restaurants was up 6 percent from September to November compared to the previous year, with sales up 7 percent for the same period.

Overall, consumer spending increased 1 percent for the 12 months ending November versus last year, but traffic was down 1 percent. For the first time in five quarters the restaurant industry reported gains in the last quarter of the year. Major restaurant chains - those that account for 50 percent of the industry - are fueling growth with a 4 percent increase in traffic through November, compared to the same time in 2002.