While one of the latest checkups of the restaurant industry has found that sales early in the year were sluggish due to bad weather, businesses affected by the market downturn had opportunities to increase their sales through new industry-centric points of emphasis.

First quarter sales decline
According to OpenTable, the leading provider of online restaurant reservations, the first quarter of 2014 opened up a slight hole in revenue that businesses will need to strike back against through the rest of 2014. Like many other businesses across the United States, especially in the Midwest and on the East Coast, many restaurants saw bad weather limit the number of diners who visited their operations.

As a result, overall North American industry diner counts fell by about 2 percent on a year-over-year basis, with major metropolitan areas seeing larger declines. Locations like Chicago and Washington, D.C. had steeper drops of 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

The company's figures are based on data from more than 10,000 online-reservation-taking restaurants. Each rise or fall in percentage represented a year-over-year increase or decrease in the amount of guests served or recorded in those areas' reservation books, whether they filed online or walked in without reservations.

Gluten-free emphasis grows
However, appealing to growing trends among customers is one way that restaurants can almost assuredly improve their standings, The Chicago Tribune reported. One such new wave of interest is that of gluten-free food, which many retailers at the National Restaurant Association are increasingly promoting.

While only 1 to 2 percent of U.S. citizens are expected to have celiac disease, an ailment that prevents their bodies from processing the grain-based protein, another 6 to 8 percent of diners are said to have sensitivity to it. More diners in general are approaching gluten-free products with interest, whether they're supporting family members or friends or trying out a gluten-free diet.

As such, an increasing number of businesses are selling gluten-free products with the expectations of increasing their market shares. Restaurants can either buy other products or make their own with new supplies. Either strategy will help them generate revenue, as gluten-free sales rose 17.3 percent in the past year and the market stands to skyrocket past $15.6 billion by 2016.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, leaders in food service equipment financing. Marlin is a nationwide provider of equipment financing solutions supporting equipment suppliers and manufacturers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.