Among them: tipping’s tipping point, home cooking, scrapple as the new bacon

The locavores have won.

Look at the top five trends in the 2016 Culinary Forecast from the National Restaurant Association (a.k.a. The Friendly NRA), and you’ll see a pattern: locally sourced meats and seafood; locally grown produce; hyper-local sourcing; natural ingredients/minimally processed food.

So yes, expect to eat, drink and breathe local next year. Also expect more smoked meats in your life, more food trucks, more healthy kids’ meals and artisanal pickles. They all made the national list and they’re among the hottest stories in Delaware this year.

But what are the unexpected trends that we’ll see in the food business this year? It’s our job to find out.

Once again, we hit the streets, the phones and the bars to talk with chefs, restaurateurs, industry professionals, city planners, servers, suppliers, home cooks and bartenders (confession: mostly bartenders) about what they expect to see in 2016—and then we made five Bold Predictions for the coming months. (Check the status of last year’s Bold Predictions below. We fared marginally better than a Magic 8-Ball might have done, wildly exceeding our expectations.)

Trend: the end of tipping

Yes, tipping has hit its tipping point. Sure, restaurants on the wacky West Coast have been experimenting with service-included pricing for the past couple of years, but people really sat up and noticed when famed restaurateur Danny Meyer announced last year that all 11 restaurants in the Union City Hospitality Group in New York City would eliminate tipping.

The Delaware Restaurant Association plans to make gratuities a major topic during its annual meeting in February.

“We’ve had calls, and we know that local business owners are curious about whether a tip-free or mandatory service charge model is something that could work in their restaurants,” says Karen Stauffer, DRA director of marketing. “So far, no restaurants in Delaware have switched to no tipping, but we do know of several in Philadelphia that have made the change.”

Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Hospitality Group, says changes in tipping policy are driven by a number of factors: spreading compensation fairly among restaurant staff; creating a more professional, stable work environment, and dealing with changes that higher minimum wage laws will create in some parts of the country. What remains to be seen is how customers react. Will they experience acute sticker shock when they see much higher menu prices, even if tipping isn’t expected?

“It’s a really complex issue,” Teixido says. “And it would really change the composition of our industry.”

Bold Prediction #1: At least one fine dining restaurant in Delaware will eliminate tipping in 2016—most likely one at the beach.

Trend: home cooking for sale

In San Francisco, where digital start-up tycoons are eager to develop the Uber for everything, new apps connect home cooks with people too busy to cook at home, presumably because they’re at work developing apps, and they’re hungry.

Peer-to-peer food sales are already happening in Delaware, though we’re using a somewhat lower-tech solution: Facebook. Last Thanksgiving, I knew people online offering homemade gravy, soups and pies for sale to friends right before the holiday. Some were trained chefs, but others were home cooks renowned for their skill in the kitchen.

But would their dishes sell on an app if it were available?

“I wouldn’t mind considering it,” says Amy Watson Bish, pie maker extraordinaire. Actual comment on her Facebook page: “Can I still order a pie for next Saturday? You can say no. I’ll cry softly.”

She hadn’t heard of apps like FoodieShares before, but she’s clearly considered the concept enough to know that Delaware has no “cottage food laws” that allow home-based food producers to sell to the public. How does FoodieShares get around that?

In an interview with KCET, Channel 28 in Los Angeles, FoodieShares CEO George Mathew addressed that head on: “It’s a question that comes up sometimes. It’s confusing because we are new.” Translated, that’s start-up-tycoon-speak for “If we start making enough money, we’ll figure it out.”

Bold Prediction #2: Increased interest in home cooks entering the sharing economy leads Delaware legislators to loosen cottage food regulations, or they get no pie.

Trend: scrapple is the new bacon

Long considered the country cousin among more refined breakfast meats, scrapple is having its moment in the sun. You’ll see it in starring roles in brunch menus all around town—scrapple hashes, scrapple Benedicts, scrapple mac-n-cheese. You’ll drink it in scrapple beers and make a Bloody Mary out of scrapple-infused vodka. And the Apple-Scrapple English Muffin made it all the way to the finals of the Thomas’ Hometown Breakfast Battle before losing to something covered in sausage gravy from Illinois. That scrapple success comes thanks to Ryan Cunningham, chef at Abbott’s on Broad Creek in Laurel, creator of the aforementioned muffin and global ambassador of scrapple.

Why does Cunningham love it? “That soft mushy center and the crisp outside, the pork flavor, the sage. We use scrapple a lot in the restaurant,” he says.

And more chefs are doing it themselves. Bill Hoffman at The House of William and Merry in Hockessin and Hari Cameron at a(MUSE.) in Rehoboth Beach both make scrapple in house. Cunningham occasionally makes duck scrapple at Abbott’s, and others are not just experimenting, they’re upgrading.

“People are cutting higher-end pieces of the pig in there, so it doesn’t have that offal kind of taste,” Cunningham says.

Perhaps that’s what it will take to bring scrapple mainstream—if it’s not there already.
Bold prediction #3: The biggest scrapplephobic in your life will dare to try some in 2016.

Trend: more wineries, more breweries…and more distilleries

Craft spirits and locally-produced spirits continue to top the NRA’s list of alcohol-based dining trends, but Delaware has only entered the distilling game in the past few years.

When the Painted Stave wanted to open the state’s first stand-alone distillery in Smyrna in 2012, its founders had to get state laws changed in order to do so. But now that that work is done and the Painted Stave has infused some local flavor into the cocktail menus, the question remains: when does Northern Delaware get its own gin?

The beach has already gotten in on the action. Beach Time Distilling in Lewes and the Delaware Distilling Company in Rehoboth Beach have both gone through the doors that Painted Stave opened, and there are constant whispers—rumors, wishful thinkings—of another opening up further north.

Bold Prediction #4: Either a distillery opens in the Wilmington-Newark corridor, or some enterprising restaurant tries it on its own.

Trend: Market Street—dining destination

“We could build more glass, shiny towers, but that is not what is going to change this city. It is the coffee shops and the bike lanes; it is those kinds of things that get people here on nights and weekends.” – Chris Buccini, quoted in The News Journal, Oct. 28, 2015.

Exciting eats are coming to Market Street. By the time this sees print, Bryan and Andrea Sikoras’ Merchant Bar should be open across the street from La Fia. The guys… behind Chelsea and Ernest & Scott Tavern are planning a new barbecue spot/microbrewery called 3 Doors Brewing. What was once a dining/nightlife destination might become one again, as new residents move onto Market Street with dollars to spend.

Bold Prediction #5: Restaurants open and restaurants close all the time. Look for a net gain of five places on or near Market Street in 2016…

Scorecard for Last Year’s Predictions:

1. You will eat fish offal some­time in the next year.
OK, you probably didn’t. But local, sustainable fish continue to be popular.
2. A local chain will become a tenant in the new Fashion Center complex at the Christiana Mall.
Didn’t happen, though the Fashion Center isn’t done yet.
3. “Vintage Atlantic” will become a category on at least one prominent local wine list.
Galer Estates wines are now on the wine list at Sovana Bistro in East Marlborough. And the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region just published its first official map. Slower than expected, but all steps in the right direction.
4. A food truck park will open this year—with at least five new trucks that don’t yet exist.
Wilmington City Council voted in November to allow food trucks to operate on city streets.
5. La Fia taco.
Nailed it.