The next time you dine out in New Jersey, you'll probably notice several healthy options on the menu.

"The farm-to-table (movement) is still hugely popular — very locally sourced food, as well as wine and craft cocktails," according to Marilou Halvorsen, President of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

The desire for organic and gluten-free foods that are in season and made with simple, basic ingredients, also remains, according to Halvorsen.

"And actually kale has kind of become the new bacon. People put kale on everything," Halvorsen said. The leaf cabbage is considered one of the healthiest super foods.

Customers like to balance healthy meals with a really good desserts too —also made with basic ingredients, according to Halvorsen.

"People love simple, but yet elegant," she said. 

Small plate, tapas-style portions provide good options for those looking to try a variety of items, but Halvorsen added people like to get their money's worth too when they dine out and order main entrees.

The dining experience these days also is about having the right beverage to go along with a good meal, and restaurants that offer a creative cocktail program attract customers.

"You'll really find some innovative things and people putting things in cocktails you really never would have thought," Halvorsen said. That includes cocktails infused with pork roll.

New Jersey has about 18,000 traditional restaurants so establishments have to distinguish themselves from their competitors to remain successful, Halvorsen said.

Excellent customer service, including how visitors are greeted, to the interior design and outdoor seating, are important — and Halvorsen said the overall dining experience and reputation of a restaurant are what draw repeat customers.

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