10 Food & Dining Trends to Watch in 2021

Individual bites, digital menus, hyperlocal eating and more trends to expect in the New Year.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

New Jersey’s dining and restaurant scene is ever-evolving, and despite the struggles of the past year, that isn’t changing. Going into the New Year, businesses across the Garden State will be running with what worked in 2020, and moving forward with new ideas.

Here are some guesses as to what new food and drink trends we’ll see popping up—or making a comeback—in 2021.

Digital Menus

Digital menus have been one of the restaurant industry’s most prominent changes during the pandemic, reducing the constant touching and passing that comes with a regular menu. So get used to scanning QR codes with your phone, as many bars and restaurants have resorted to showcasing food and drink menus in strictly digital formats—something that we foresee outlasting the pandemic.

More Pivots

It’s no secret that this year has been a challenge for the restaurant industry, but it has also forced restaurants, bars, and bakeries all over the state to think beyond just indoor dining and takeout. For instance, Melovino Meadery has canned up their very own sparkling honey water available for nationwide shipping, and dessert specialists like the Hudson Cakery have turned to at-home cookie decorating kits. Though the restaurant scene in New Jersey will continue making its recovery, new ideas will continue coming to surface.

Comfort Food

The last year has certainly thrown fine dining a curveball. People sought comfort during 2020—in and out of the kitchen—and it looks like restaurants will continue to shift their menus in that direction. More elegant places like the Bernards Inn have added smaller, casual bites to their menu, like fried pickles and bar pretzels, and The Little Food Inn is embracing hearty, home-cooked meals like meatloaf, Tex Mex chili, and country-fried steak.

Specialty Menus

On the opposite side of restaurants embracing comfort food, restaurants are more eager than ever to create memorable dining experiences for guests. Dining out has become more of a special occasion since the pandemic has begun, bringing chefs to craft specialty menus that allow their guests to indulge when they decide to eat out.

Zoom Cooking Classes

We spent a lot of time inside our own kitchens this year, but that doesn’t mean your favorite restaurant experiences can’t be enjoyed like they used to. What became a favored trend in 2020 will continue into the new year, with chefs providing food boxes prepared for their own personal recipes. More and more people dove into the world of at-home cooking this year, and the opportunity to cook alongside a chef is a great way to get together with family and friends (in small groups, of course!).

Vegan and Vegetable-Driven Dishes

Clean and healthier eating doesn’t mean your dish has to taste flavorless. Restaurants around the state are embracing vegan and vegetable dishes as alternatives to the popular meat, chicken, and fish dishes we are used to seeing on menus. Juniper Hill added spiced red dal lentils to their menu (served with roasted cauliflower) and Restaurant Latour embraced vegetable options by including an entire menu dedicated to them, with items like charred cabbage and turmeric raviolo.

Hyperlocal Eating

During a year of tough challenges and struggle, supporting local businesses became as important as ever in 2020. Communities continued to go the extra mile to support their own local businesses and give back to their communities. This also includes local farms as well, with farm-to-table boxes making their way into hundreds of kitchens. Illuminate Foods (based in Maplewood) began delivering locally sourced food from farms to places all over North Jersey, opening eyes to a new world of fresh and organic foods.

Internet-Driven Food Trends

At-home food trends took over the internet as we all found ourselves confined to our homes. Tasks like making your own sourdough bread or pickles, and stirring up whipped coffee became the forefront of creativity in the kitchen. Trends like these will continue to pop up into the new year, the newest one being hot cocoa bombs (like the ones made at Blue Sheep Bake Shop in Somerville)—a delicious chocolate ball filled with hot cocoa mix and marshmallows that breaks under hot water and milk.

Individual Bites

Gone are the days of sharing big plates and serving finger food for your guests. Individual bites and meals will become more of a trend to keep up with socially distant snacking, with things like cupcakes and mason jar meals making a comeback. During 2020’s holiday season, restaurants like Bistro D’Azur offered individual desserts for takeout (such as apple tarts) instead of larger pies and cakes.

Non-Alcoholic Libations

For many, 2020 was a year of excess. This year, as we settle into another season of quarantine, people will be swapping alcoholic beverages for zero proof elixirs. With non-alcoholic spirits on the rise, there’s never been a better time to explore the booze-free movement.

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