A streamlined menu and an asset-life ownership model has helped Burger King's parent Restaurant Brands International become competitive once again.

Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International (NYSE:QSR) has long trailed industry leader McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), though its rival is now trying to emulate it in many respects. And while the burger joint briefly lost its crown as the second-biggest chain several years ago after it slipped behind Wendy's (NASDAQ:WEN) , it's since regained that mantle through a mix of smart management, a focused menu, and controlling costs.

The three charts below will give you a better understanding of how Restaurant Brands International operates, how it makes money, and whether it can hope to catch up to its bigger brethren.

Burgers over coffee
The North American restaurant chain operator was formed in December 2014 following the $12 billion merger between Burger King and Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee and doughnut chain. It operates a total of more than 19,000 restaurants -- some 15,000 Burger Kings, and about 4,400 Tim Hortons.

Of course, even the combined company pales in comparison to the 36,000 restaurants McDonald's operates, though it's more than twice the 6,200 restaurants Wendy's has. Still Nation's Restaurant News calculates that BK and Wendy's each have about an 11% share of the burger chain restaurant industry, but remained dwarfed by McDonald's almost 47% share. But that's down from over 48.5% in 2012, with the losses going to smaller chains like Sonic, Carl's Jr., and Hardee's.

How RBI makes M.O.N.E.Y.
Those numbers don't necessarily tell the full story, though, as they don't include 2015, when even McDonald's began to make some headway late in the year, and Burger King achieved a 10% gain in system-wide sales on a 5.4% jump in comps. By comparison, McDonald's sales fell 6% year-over-year, and though comps turned positive in the back half of the year, that was driven largely by price increases, not necessarily by rising customer traffic.

But Restaurant Brands International is a slightly different company than McDonald's. Of those 15,000 Burger King restaurants, for example, just 71 are company owned; all the rest are franchised. It also owns just 24 Tim Hortons. McDonald's, on the other hand, still owns around 7,200 restaurants, or about 20%, though it says it's moving toward a goal of being 95% franchisor-owned. Wendy's plans to be 95% franchisee-owned by the end of 2016.

On a system-wide basis, Burger King naturally represents the largest percentage of total revenues, or 73% of the total $23.6 billion in 2015. But on a consolidated basis, Tim Hortons dominates with $2.9 billion, or 73% of the $4.1 billion total.

But profitability is spread more equally
While Burger King has more stores and generates more revenue, Tim Hortons contributes more profits to Restaurant Brands International. On an adjusted basis, the chain operator's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization skew more heavily toward the coffee and doughnut shops.

Restaurant Brands International has been growing out its footprint. It has increased its expansion of the Tim Hortons chain into the U.S., and since 2010, the number of new Burger King restaurants opened annually has increased fourfold from 173 to 631 stores.

The burger wars remain intensely competitive, as the dollar menu battles prove. Wendy's may have kicked off the latest round with its 4 for $4 bundled meal, but Burger King may be gaining traction with its 5 for $4 extra-value package. McDonald's has now changed up its 2 for $2 menu, but going 2 for $5 is a risky move, as it sounds like customers are getting fewer items but getting charged more.  

With an international footprint, a decent value proposition, and two fast-growing, competitive brands, Restaurant Brands International could be a king-sized investment opportunity.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.