McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) reported earnings last week for its third fiscal quarter. Let's see how the bag of greasy numbers holds up.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, total revenues increased 8% to $5.3 billion, operating income increased 6% to $1.2 billion, and net income unfortunately decreased 6% to $735 million ($0.58 per share). For the nine months ended Sept. 30, total revenues increased 8% to $15.2 billion, operating income increased 6% to $3.1 billion, and net income increased 6% to $2 billion ($1.56 per share). The decline in third-quarter net income was due to a significant increase in the line dedicated to provision for income taxes.

McDonald's is performing well against competitors Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) and Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM). The biggest driver of shareholder value for these restaurants is, of course, same-store sales and total sales in general. Fellow Fool W.D. Crotty recently reported on the strength Mickey Dee's is seeing with its revenue momentum and, in fact, mentioned how the international operations have seen improvement as of late.

This past quarter may have seen a decline in the bottom line, but if I owned shares in McDonald's, I wouldn't be too concerned at this juncture. The nine-month figures are indicative of a healthy status quo. Plus, consider that the company's annual dividend was raised by 22% in 2005 and 38% in 2004. Such moves signal great confidence in the future. Admittedly, I hate the practice of an annual dividend, since I'd much rather see the returned cash doled out quarterly. Still, I like the trend.

The fast-food wizard also recently announced, according to Reuters, an interesting initiative aimed at improving the reputation of its menu, which nutritionists have attacked over the past several years. Since its food hasn't traditionally been known as being exactly health-friendly, McDonald's plans to launch a print advertising campaign to convey the message that the ingredients that go into its sandwiches and fries are of top quality.

In addition, McDonald's wants the media to know that the processing of its meats adheres to a completely safe protocol and that advanced technology is in place to track the food sources. The company intends to introduce an enhancement to its website that will let interested parties see exactly where the components of a particular sandwich come from.

Ronald and the gang know that quality earnings and dividends depend on the quality of the foods they serve, but all the quality in the world won't amount to a hill of beans if the public doesn't know about it. Perception is very important, so such an ad campaign probably will help.

Even so, McDonald's will always suffer from an image problem with anyone interested in a healthy diet, since we're talking high-fat/high-cholesterol/high-salt/high-preservative grub here. But apparently there are still plenty of people out there who are willing to ingest less-than-healthful items if they're tasty and well-priced enough. Fast food is part of Americana, and it isn't going away any time soon. That's what makes McDonald's a useful stock idea for the very long term.

Order up this further Foolishness at the drive-thru:

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.