How to Open a Salad Bar

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Keep it fresh & tasty and your salad bar will be a popular place
Keep it fresh & tasty and your salad bar will be a popular place (Image: Hijaak PhotoArt Vol. 1; IMSI®)

Find yourself waxing poetic over the thought of a perfect salad only to find yourself standing over wilted lettuce, suspicious-looking salad dressings in questionable bins and croutons that would make better ammunition than garnishes? Chances are you're the ideal candidate to open a salad bar. Given your discriminating taste and attention to detail, you stand ready to give like-minded salad lovers the fresh, crisp experience they long for. Whether you name your green emporium for yourself or pick a name that's environmentally tantalizing, follow the tips in this article and get to work. You've got a lot of chopping to do.

Things You'll Need

  • Research into operating a salad bar
  • Good location
  • Island designed to hold a salad buffet
  • Individual pans, crock pots and other food service vessels
  • Fully-equipped kitchen ('fridges, freezers, ovens, dishwashers)
  • Copious amounts of plates, utensils, serving pieces and glassware
  • Health and zoning board permits and licenses
  • Insurance
  • Staff
  • Liquor license (optional)

Draft a budget to determine how much green you'll require to get a loan to open your salad bar. You will need enough cash to buy or rent restaurant-style furnishings, refrigerators and freezers and equipment required to construct and outfit the island showcase that will house the buffet. Include professional ovens, dishwashers and other appliances required to cut, chop, dice and blend up all of the fixings you plan to feature on your menu.

Reconnoiter other salad bars to evaluate their set-ups. Among the information you'll want to collect are: Numbers and types of items on the salad bar, ratio of hot-to-cold menu offerings, convenience of bowls and serving pieces and visual appeal of the salad bar. Ascertain chair and table numbers and room arrangements, signs and marketing materials, plate, utensil and paper product vending set-ups, drink taps and glassware displays. Also consider methods of waste disposal for diners.

Observe tasks as they're performed at other salad bars to estimate personnel needs at your place. Track the frequency with which food items are refilled, the rate at which dishes are bussed and tables are cleaned, the flow of clean dishes and utensils and the average number of times the tables "turn" during lunch and/or dinner shifts. Note deficiencies at these venues to make certain your restaurant doesn't repeat them.

Shop for a site for your salad bar that's in a thriving area. Check it out during the day and evening to see how much traffic the store gets on a typical weekday and weekend. Once you determine that the place has the potential to attract diners, contact your local health department and zoning board to make certain the building is eligible for licenses to prepare and serve food on premises. Sign the lease and complete paperwork required for occupancy and food service permits. If you plan to serve liquor, apply for a license to dispense alcohol. Contact your insurance broker to find out what types of coverages you'll need for your salad bar.

Contact restaurant equipment suppliers to find the right set-ups. Choose a brand new unit or consider a previously-owned salad bar installation to save cash. Whichever route you take, keep in mind the cardinal rules for all salad bars: Cold items must be maintained at 41 degrees F or below for both health reasons and visual appeal. Hot items must be kept at 140 degrees F. If sneeze bars don't come standard with your equipment order, add them. These come as single and double-sided units, so choose the one that works best with your configuration.

Purchase the right serving accessories. Superior Products offers the Coldmaster line of food pans that keep cold foods fresh and at the right temperature without electricity or ice for up to eight hours. You simply put the pans into the freezer each night so the material inside the unit freezes solid. Think of how a Thermos bottle works and you'll understand the principle of how the servers stay at or below 41 degrees F. For dressings, Cambro crocks (available from Restaurant Source) resist stains and odors that leach into serving dishes as a result of holding salad dressing ingredients like vinegar, oil, and mayonnaise for long lengths of time.

Stock your salad bar with plenty of service pieces. Salad-size plates are the most efficient way to allow patrons to take enough food to satisfy them but not so much there's an abundance of waste. You can't have enough salad plates in your tabletop inventory. You'll also need a plentiful supply of ladles and tongs to scoop, lift and carry salad bar contents to customer plates without too many spills and drops. Some of the brands salad bar owners prefer for these items are Cambro and Carlisle, available at wholesale restaurant sites like Cook's Direct and Webstaurant (see link below). Buy in bulk to save money, time and shipping costs.

Understand the basics of salad bar etiquette and maintenance. Follow FDA guidelines by limiting high maintenance products that include eggs, meats and mayonnaise to no more than four hours of exposure before you pull them from the bar. Check the entire food display at least every two hours -- more if you want to be prudent - to keep tabs on temperature settings and examine food for spoilage. Make sure your island is as appealing to the eye as the ingredients appeal to the palate by using clean cloths to tidy up the spills that result from eager salad eaters who couldn't wait to get to your fresh buffet.

Tips & Warnings

  • Contract with local farms and small gardens to get the freshest produce unless you are too far from the rural areas that make this possible.
  • Don't forget high chairs for toddlers, booster seats for bigger kids and a child's salad bar menu. Parents are always looking for healthy dining options.
  • Expect visits from your community health department on a regular basis. These surprise visits are conducted to make certain that your salad bar is operating under the rules and regulations set forth by the Department of Health in your state.

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