This past year has been one long foodservice success story, and as restaurant owners brace themselves for 2016, they'll have a lot of support from their past prosperity.

According to the latest Restaurant Performance Index released by the National Restaurant Association, the food service industry has seen remarkable boosts across many crucial metrics between October 2014 and October 2015, indicating positive, sustainable growth and faith in a strong economy. Same-store sales continue to increase over the 20th consecutive month, and customer traffic is up 41 percent from last year.

Additionally, thanks to all this added revenue, more than three-fourths of food service providers reportedly invested their capital into "equipment, expansion or remodeling" in the last quarter. Let's take a look at what's trending now and what may be on its way to a restaurant near you come 2016.

Greener packaging

Perhaps foodies visiting their local eateries have already noticed a change in the color and stock of the containers holding their leftovers. Interested in reshaping their resource spend to demonstrate a more environmentally friendly attitude, many restaurants have sought out greener packaging options to appease both customers and their bottom lines.

"What's notable this year is the overwhelming number of mentions related to compostable packaging," said Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute, in a recent press release. As such, manufacturers specializing in packaging have had to step up their game to meet client and end-user demand for these materials.

Larger food service businesses in good fiscal standing will likely spend a portion of their 2015 gains on discovering newer, more efficient ways to either begin producing ecological packaging or automate processes they already have in place through supply chain partners. Smaller businesses won't miss out either – though they may not be able to innovate firsthand, their newfound remuneration affords them the opportunity to seek out green packaging manufacturers that may have once been above their pay grade.

"Under heavier use, the lifecycle of kitchen equipment may shrink."

Kitchen staples

Properly investing for the future doesn't always mean integrating new technology or cutting-edge strategies. Sometimes, it's just a matter of maintaining the course. In food service, this is a particularly important mantra to abide by as tampering with preparation could alter the tastes repeat customers have come love.

So it's no wonder that Foodservice Equipment & Supplies found, on average, restaurants will spend nearly one-fifth of their 2016 operating budgets on primary cooking equipment, more than any other. After all, it only stands to reason that with these increases in customer traffic, kitchens across the industry have undoubtedly put their appliances through the fire. Under heavier use, the lifecycle of these machines may shrink, resulting in a higher frequency of technical issues or sooner out-and-out replacement. Investment in large-scale equipment like ovens and grills ensures these food service necessities continue to attract customers with the delightful dishes they help concoct. Moreover, updating these must-haves can have a dramatic effect on the quality of the food they cook and the resources, like energy, used to prepare them.

Across the board, restaurant owners can turn considerable gains in 2015 into wild successes in 2016, so long as they're willing to put their money where their customers' mouths are.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.

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