The food and restaurant sector is one of the largest and most popular industries across the U.S. These days, it is virtually impossible to walk a block without passing some type of food establishment. In fact, the National Restaurant Association is predicting 2015's restaurant industry sales to be near $709.2 billion, up from 2014's $586.7 billion.

Such a large industry, with 14 million employees projected for 2015, requires an extensive use of technology and networks to properly function. Take a moment to think of how restaurants supply food to millions of consumers. Everything, from meats to vegetables, must start somewhere and make its way to food establishments. The industry used to rely on legacy infrastructure, but not anymore, as more organizations have experienced the advantages of cloud computing.

Incremental growth
Professional auditing firm KPMG conducts an annual survey of the food and beverage industry. The 2013 Food and Beverage Industry Outlook Survey was particularly important because it looked at cloud computing early on, and the growth it was seeing. At that time, 43 percent of organizations had adopted cloud computing, with 22 percent planning on doing so sometime in the future.

Of the respondents who fully implemented cloud services, 30 percent said their business model would fundamentally change because of the cloud. Another 37 percent told KPMG cloud services would help improve transparency on transactions and reduce costs. The areas organizations and restaurants were most interested in were greater efficiency, increased productivity and the appeal of collaboration applications. The cloud is an excellent service to help meet those needs because of the flexibility offered.

Cloud helps data needs
In the same survey, only one year later, big data was a relevant area, as 39 percent of organizations said effectively using data for decision-making was a challenge, as was maintaining data quality and managing the sheer volume of information. But why would food organizations and restaurants need to use big data? This information can reveal many trends that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. For instance, chain restaurants can compare customer orders between various locations. Customers on the East Coast may have different tastes than their West Coast counterparts, and it is up to the restaurant to meet those needs, or business can decline.

As many know, big data can quickly fill up storage and analytic software requires strong processing power. Luckily, the cloud helps meet those needs by eliminating an organization's need for dedicated software, storage and expensive hardware, according to a 2015 Information Systems journal article. For instance, the cloud's scalability means processing power can easily be increased to handle more demanding workflows.

Supply chain also sees benefits
Of course, restaurants and organizations must get food and ingredients from somewhere. This is where an effective supply chain comes into play. Poor logistics may result in establishments not ordering food on time or receiving food as it nears expiration. Receiving food on a timely and consistent basis is even more important today because younger consumers are changing their eating habits.

"[Food, drink and consumer goods] organizations that turn customer data into actionable intelligence can improve sales and customer retention and achieve lasting competitive advantage," the 2014 report said.

Establishments should consider current trends because the National Restaurant Association's 2015 forecast revealed the top table service trends included a greater demand for healthy, locally sourced meats and produce. Furthermore, according to a December 2014 study from the NPD Group, fresh food consumption will continue to grow over the next five years, and this is on top of a 20 percent increase of fresh food consumption from 2003 to 2013.

To satisfy and retain Generation Z and millennial customers, a type of enterprise resource planning system is needed. Food supplies and restaurants can use ERP in the cloud to effectively manage inventory, implement forecast planning and optimize delivery routes, according to Supply & Demand Chain Executive contributor Robert Frost.

Food service company JAFCO also said the cloud can help increase "farm to fork visibility." Essentially, the cloud will reveal where an ingredient is in the supply chain, in real time. Frost also shed light on some of the complex worldwide regulations when it comes to food transportation. The cloud can help condense these complex areas, for example, by simplifying sharing of information, streamlining analysis and automating quality assurance.

In the event of a product recall, the cloud can almost certainly help a sometimes difficult, and time-consuming process.

"If everyone works collaboratively in a single cloud-based system, bad ingredients into the supply chain can be quickly identified, if not prevented, and recalls of affected products can be rapidly and cost-effectively conducted," Food Logistics contributor John Bailey said.

Restaurants and food organizations have already made ample strides implementing cloud services, and that trend is likely to continue so as to meet customer demands.