The solid performance turned in by Papa John’s International (PZZA) for the first quarter of 2012 pleased not only investment analysts, it reflected continued steady improvement displayed by its closest competitors, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza.

More importantly, continued improvements at all three brands, the pizza segment’s largest players, is likely a sign of a gradually improving global economy.

Papa John’s blended same-store sales rose a modest 1.1 percent for the period, but when lapping the same period in 2011, when it turned in a +6.7 percent performance, the number becomes a bit more impressive.

International same-store sales surprised analysts by rocketing upward 8.4 percent, nearly triple the +3 percent projection of one analyst. Given Papa John’s longstanding struggles with its overseas markets, this, too, is good news.

PJ’s Q1 2012 revenue of $331.3 million was also meaningfully higher than consensus estimates, yielding EPS of 69 cents for the period.

By comparison, Pizza Hut’s U.S. same-store sales for the period were +5 percent, while Domino’s Pizza’s were just shy of +2 percent (made up of a blended same-store sales performance of + 1.6 percent at company owned stores and +2.1 percent at franchised stores). Not earth shattering, but solidly positive.

That the pizza segment’s top three brands are doing well both at home and overseas points toward consumers in many countries spending just a little bit more of their discretionary income on the humble pie.

The National Restaurant Association also is reporting robust same-store sales and customer traffic across the entire U.S. food service industry. Its monthly Restaurant Performance Index (a composite monitoring the health of and outlook for the food service industry) rose to 102.2 in March, a 0.3-percent increase over February’s 101.9.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, that increase marks the fifth consecutive month the NRA’s RPI has stood above the 100 mark, which indicates expansion in key food service industry indicators.

It also indicates restaurant operator sentiment on whether the industry is improving. That it’s above 100 yet again is a very, very good sign.