10 Dining Trends to Watch in 2019

New flavors, ingredients and movements to look for in the New Year.

Predicting trends is like guessing how a party will go: you have a general sense of things based on the menu and guest list, but it’s hard to tell how it will all play out. Similarly, the 2019 Jersey dining scene isn’t something we can map out from here, but we do have a few solid guesses. Here’s a short list of 10 trends to watch in 2019.

Growth. Jersey’s restaurant scene should stay #JerseyStrong in 2019. There were 27,000 restaurants in the Garden State in 2018, employing over 330,000 people. That means our restaurant scene accounted for 7.3 percent of the state’s total employment—a major contribution in an economic climate like this one, good news for job-seekers and the industries that supply, and rely, on restaurants. By 2027, hospitality is predicted to account for 15 percent of the state’s total employment.

Jersey-Forward Identity. You could never accuse the “Jersey” factor of being weak, especially in traffic, but in the restaurant industry, where so many diners want a bite of the Big Apple (or bust), the Garden State’s had to fight a little harder to make a name for itself. That fight’s paid off—the quality of Jersey restaurants has expanded since even 2017, busting our “Best of” list into 30. And the industry continues to invest in itself in big ways like the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Expo, the first B2B-type hospitality industry event of that scale for the state in several years (you can track as restaurants and businesses join the expo on their Facebook page). What this means for you, the diner, is both more growth, and more state-focus (local product, Jersey community building, economic investment, etc.)

More (and Meatier) Non-Meat. You may or may not have heard of “The Impossible Burger,” a meat substitute that provides what some consider a near-miraculous carnivorous verisimilitude for non-meat-eaters. That’s gone nationwide, starting with chains like White Castle and BareBurger, but according to international restaurant and hospitality group Benchmark, you can expect to see more meat substitutes at play in the Garden State, whether they cater to vegetarians or omnivores.

CBD. Even though it has strong backing, Bill A2719—legalizing recreational marijuana use among adults—has yet to pass. But CBD—non-psychoactive cannabidiol—is legal for use in New Jersey as long as its derived from “industrial hemp.” Chefs are already experimenting with CBD and will likely continue in 2019 based on the response to CBD-as-ingredient nationwide. Just last August, chef Angie Marin of Chef’s Table in Hoboken hosted a “5 Course Chef’s Table Featuring Rosebud CBD Oil.” (It sold out.)

Tea Time. Nation’s Restaurant News shared a prediction by AF & Co., a restaurant and hospitality consultancy in San Francisco: cheese in your tea. Actually what they (and other national trend-watchers) predicted was an expansion in both tea and tea alternative beverages, including a Taiwan-style tea that’s topped with a salted cheesy foam. (Try it at Sunmerry Bakery in Edison if you’re curious.) It’s a natural extension of the Third Wave coffee scene, which sort of found its (natural) limits in bringing things like roasting, sourcing, and even Specialty Coffee Association training in-house. When we interviewed Boxwood Coffee owner Stephen Bellamy in August, he naturally shared about their in-house roasting and Specialty Coffee Association-certification, but he also had plenty to say about the sophisticated tea brewing process used at his Summit and Westfield shops.

Home Fermenting. With the recent boom in homebrewing, it’s only natural that green, kombucha-guzzling, CBD-spiking, probiotic-pounding food trends would incorporate the world of home fermenting. As anyone who’s handled a kombucha SCOBY (symbioticcolony of bacteria and yeast) knows, home-fermenting isn’t something to be done casually. But with the rise of interest we’re also seeing young businesses like Hammonton-based Fermented NJ, which provides customers with the tools to make everything from kefir to kombucha and which goes into its second full year of business in 2019 (maybe inspiring some competition?).

Keto-friendly Menus. And not just because it’s the season of dieting. At least one New Jersey chef I interviewed this year was a happy advocate for his Ketogenic (high-fat, ultra-low-carb) diet. For better or worse, the Keto diet and its lower-carb ilk are here to stay, and especially with the strength of the gluten free market, you can expect to see more Keto-friendly options on restaurant menus (whether they’re advertised as such or not). National magazines like Women’s Health are already covering Keto-accommodating chain restaurants, but we’re more interested in watching if and how individual chefs address the situation.

Farm to Truck. This is a long-shot prediction, and likely nothing to take major hold statewide, but as farm to table roots continue to spread, environmental causes remain as (distressingly) urgent as ever, and a fairly strict version of the “Straw Ban” still in the making, the idea of local sourcing is could reach some forward-thinking mobile food operations (at least according to “Trend Watch 2019” of FoodTruckOperator.com and its sister site, FastCasual.com).

Large Scale. More accurate would be “mega scale,” with multi-faceted (think: food plus entertainment) projects like American Dream in Secaucus and the $2.5 billion retail-hospitality-residential Riverton Project in Sayreville ongoing (and self-styled “metroburb” Bell Works in Holmdel going into its first full year of operation and service for Bell Market restaurants). American Dream alone will have a 150,000 square-foot food court with 100 “eating establishments” (including 15 or so sit-down restaurants) and the nation’s first Kosher Food Hall.

Happier People. Georgian, Pacific Rim and Eastern European cuisines have all been called out as the next “It” foods for the nation. In Jersey, it’s a harder guess. What we’re more excited about is the certain, long overdue increased focus on quality of life for restaurant staff—from executive chefs on down (and back up). Industry profiler Good Food 100 Restaurants predicts “a significant increase in soft career development and quality of life benefits for employees.” And organizations like Fair Kitchens (supported by Jersey’s own Chef John Vitale) are continuing to bring employee welfare to the fore. Which means a happier dining experience for everyone.

As far as we can see, 2019 should be a year of investing in Jersey identity, products and people. And we’re looking forward to eating it up.

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