CHICAGO — New baked foods and faster drive-thrus boosted breakfast business at McDonald’s during 2020 and the first part of 2021, helping the quick-service restaurant chain turn the corner in an important daypart.

In a June 2 presentation at the virtual Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference, Christopher J. Kempczinski, president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based McDonald’s Corp., described breakfast as “probably the most time-sensitive, convenient-oriented daypart.”

Being faster in the drive-thru helps the breakfast business, and to that end, Mr. Kempczinski said drive-thrus in the United States “are cranking.”

“One of the things that’s been, I think, really helpful for us is the fact that we have 95% of our restaurants with the drive-thru,” he said. “It’s proven to be a very safe sales channel that customers have been able to go through. And I’ve been proud about how the US team and our franchisees there have actually been able, despite a lot of volume going through the drive-thrus, to get service … to be improved. So that, for us, has been, I think, a very pleasant surprise. We’ve discovered capacity that, frankly, we didn’t realize that we had.”

Mr. Kempczinski also attributed growth in breakfast to new menu items, including baked foods. Last fall, McDonald’s added apple fritters, blueberry muffins and cinnamon rolls to its all-day menu in the United States. The introductions marked the first addition of bakery items to the fast-food restaurant’s core menu in over eight years, according to the company. Baked foods already on the menu include cookies and pies.

Finally, Mr. Kempczinski said McDonald’s is paying more attention to the breakfast daypart, making it part of the company’s marketing mix and putting weight against it.

Growth in the daypart will be critical as lingering trends left over from the COVID-19 pandemic shake out.

“I do think breakfast is going to continue to have more pressure as a daypart because McDonald’s, like every other company, is talking more about hybrid work,” Mr. Kempczinski said. “And perhaps you might see people now only working in the office three days as opposed to five days. I think that may be something that does exist as a permanent post-pandemic sort of new way of working, which will have perhaps a ripple effect on the breakfast business. But our mentality is we do think we’ve got a great breakfast business, and we want to be gaining share there.”