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Not a fan of salad bars, despite the convenience
July 30, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
Oh, busboy. My sister loves Fredrick’s, a medium-priced restaurant in central Massachusetts. It is housed in what looks to be an old hotel that has definitely seen better days.
Its decor is out of the ’50s or maybe ’60s, trimmed with a bit of the ’40s. You know the type: shiny red seats circling a Formica table, plastic vines lining the inside of the jalousie windows, mature waitresses in black dresses and sensible shoes, plastic menus full of food pictures and adorned with fingerprints, a Sunday prime-rib special and a salad bar expanding the wall from the waitress station to the rest rooms. My sister loves salad bars, but I am not a fan.
Basically, I’m talking about a “bar” or buffet of salad fixings. (Fredrick’s has a wooden one with a cedar-shingled canopy!). The fixin’ containers are arranged in a bed of ice with service utensils so the customers can assemble their own salad plates. Salad bars usually contain lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, celery and green peppers. Anything can be added to that: a display of deviled eggs, pasta salads, rice salads, jello salad and chickpeas, even cold chopped meat. There are at least three choices of salad dressing — always ranch, Italian and French, and sometimes light vinaigrette with a beige plastic ladle with the word “lite” printed on the handle. Sometimes there are oil and vinegar in cute little cruets.
After that, there is usually an array of what I call the “Jibs”: crumbled bacon (imitation, of course), croutons (bulk packaged, of course), sesame seeds, sliced black olives or grated orange cheese.
The classic salad bar saw its debut in the ’50s and continued to gain popularity in the ’60s, continuing to becoming an established service technique until today. From Wisconsin to Illinois, many restaurants have claimed to have had the first salad bar. Its origin is speculated but unknown; it probably started in the Midwest.
One restaurant claims it stopped serving alcohol and needed an alternative use for the bar that was taking up half the room. Another claims it didn’t have enough servers for its busy summer season, so they decided to have the customers make their own salads.
Another restaurateur says he invented the salad bar because he didn’t like the waste on salad plates when disliked items were “picked out.” He wanted to give the customers choice.
Another woman maintains she suggested a salad station to her favorite restaurant because she wanted to put her own dressing on her salad. It was probably a combination of things, notwithstanding the advances in technology and transportation that allowed the availability of fresh produce year round.
Still, I’m just not a fan. I dislike salad bars for the same reasons others like them:
- There are many choices. Great for someone who likes lots of great items to select. But I want a healthy salad with greens nicely arranged and measured dressing. I always overeat at a salad bar, piling on the “free” macaroni salad, olives, cheese, nuts, croutons, dressing, etc.
- One doesn’t have to wait for one’s salad. One can just get right up and get it wasting no time waiting for the waitress. I, on the other hand, want to wait. I eat out to enjoy the leisurely time. I want to sit and talk and enjoy the extra time. I also enjoy being waited on. Bring it to me; I don’t want to get up.
- I can see what I am getting and get only what I want. Some people like to select and fill their fussy appetites. Me? I like to get the food sight unseen. I like almost anything and enjoy the surprise of the served plate.
I am also not a fan because salad bars, even with many sanitary regulations, are difficult for the restaurant to maintain safely. Most restaurants do a very good job, but the customer there before you might not have had good social skills.
A sneeze bar is required; this is good until the customer leans over the lettuce to get the “jibs” in the back.
Items must be held in ice; this is good until it begins to melt and food falls into it. Each item must have its own individual service utensil; this is good until it gets mixed up with the others.
Really, what customer puts one spoon down before serving up the next items? And what about that customer who tastes the dressing with their little finger or puts back the cheese they decided they didn’t need or crunches a few carrots while selecting the croutons with their fingers?
Fresh items should not be added to items already on the salad bar, but many restaurants do this.
Whoa, enough said. To each his own, be it customer or restaurant. Whatever works. And sometimes I like salad bars, when I’m in a hurry. I understand that salad bars work well as signature items for many restaurants.
I have been reading about the great success that salad bars are having in elementary schools, increasing the children’s desire for healthier foods. Gourmet salad bars are flourishing in new age restaurants and places like Whole Foods.
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