While growth in the restaurant industry has been ongoing for years, experts believe 2014 should be a milestone of growth, especially for the quick service segment.

According to the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing, the latest Restaurant Industry Forecast predicts that 2014 will be the fifth consecutive year of sales growth, despite a challenging economy. Industry sales will rise to about $683 billion in the year, according to consumer predictions. This will be up about 3.6 percent from 2013 sales, which hit a high mark of $659 billion.

"As our nation continues its road to recovery, the restaurant industry will remain a key driver of economic growth and a leading jobs creator," said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. "Restaurants touch every community across the U.S., and 2014 will be a year of growth and innovation as the industry focuses on inspired new ways to meet consumer demand while providing valuable careers to millions of Americans."

This will also be the 15th straight year where employment growth in restaurants is expected to outpace overall employment growth. Nearly 1 million restaurants will employ 13.5 million individuals, representing an estimated 10 percent of the total American workforce. Job growth in restaurants will rise by as much as 2.8 percent, one percentage point over the overall economy's 1.8 percent growth rate.

Fast-casual and quick service especially popular
One particular corner of the market that is expected to see notable growth is the fast-casual and quick-service market, CNBC reports. These restaurants provide high-quality food and enhanced service while remaining quick in preparation and customer service, and those qualities are driving growth.

From December 2012 to November 2013, visits to fast-casual restaurants spiked by 8 percent, while spending rose by 10 percent. That's in comparison to the overall market, in which customer foot traffic remained steady and spending only grew by about 2 percent. Millennials have been known to have marked interest in the fast-casual segment.

Fast-casual restaurants have also spiked because of the economy, as many diners want the quality of a restaurant meal without the premium cost or time concerns involved.

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.