Salad bars grow up

Kelsey Nash, Digital Editor

salad chef

While customization stations and DIY options now exist for pretty much any cuisine imaginable, the humble salad bar was where it all started. In an effort to keep up with the growing demand for healthy, customizable options, restaurants and noncommercial operators alike are kicking their old salad bars to the curb—engineering new offerings, fresh packaging and customer incentives that will take their salads to the next tier. Here’s a roundup of how concepts are stepping up their
salad game. 

So long, self-serve

For its more upscale revamp, Bonanza set its signature salad bar apart from the one offered by sister chain Ponderosa by adopting a Chipotle-style approach. Staff, rather than customers, prepare customized salads from behind a line of 50-plus ingredients, fostering interaction with guests and giving a higher touch to the typical self-serve experience.

Shallow quality

3 Greens Market, the latest concept from Chicago wunderkind Brendan Sodikoff, puts a premium on the salad bar, offering both hot and cold items for $9.95 a pound. Shallow trays keep the rotation of items—and presumably the quality of them—high. “Rather than everything sitting in the hot wells for hours, it’s out there for ideally five, six or seven minutes,” Sodikoff told the Chicago Tribune. “When we get into the rush, we’re cooking much like we would in a restaurant setting, but instead of making individual plates we’re making portions of six.”

Reusable bowls

Build-your-own-salad spot Just Salad, with locations in New York City and Chicago, gives guests a reason to return—and may cut packaging costs in the process. The chain sells reusable branded salad bowls for $1, which guests can use to earn free cheese and other toppings on a return visit. The bowls lend the brand a sustainability halo as well; Just Salad says the move has saved 75,000 pounds of plastic annually.

A version of this article appeared in Restaurant Business, FoodService Director’s sister publication.

Chopping block

  • To broaden its salad bar offerings but keep food costs in line, Yale University in New Haven, Conn., plans to outfit one of its bars with a grill, referred to as a “sizzle station,” says Director of Culinary Excellence Ron DeSantis. By staffing that station with a chef, the school’s foodservice can keep tabs on portion control, providing upscale protein options such as shrimp, but ensuring students take appropriate helpings. 
  • A salad delivered off-site doesn’t have to have that pre-packaged feel. Salata’s to-go containers give each ingredient its own compartment, mirroring what customers might see behind the counter at its Texas, Chicago and LA-area restaurants.

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