A Fresh Look at Salad Bars


After a heyday that started in the 1960s, salad bars ultimately fell out of fashion in restaurants. But in casual chains where salad bars never went away, the concept’s ongoing strengths—giving diners a greater sense of value and customization with a serve-yourself way to start the dining experience—are inspiring outlets to offer a more sophisticated salad bar experience.

Casual full-service chain Ruby Tuesday in January announced improvements to the Garden Bars throughout the chain’s more than 600 units nationwide. The move brings 55 new features to the chain’s existing salad bars.

“More guests order the Garden Bar than any other item on the menu, and it’s a big reason why people come to dine with us,” says David Skena, chief marketing officer for Ruby Tuesday. “We have heard our guests and operators, learned and applied what our guests and operators have told us to ensure this new Endless Garden Bar . . . provides everything guests want in a salad.”

Salad bars are getting a second look now thanks to the ferocity of foodservice competition. Emerging salad-centric chains like Chopt, Mixt, and sweetgreen are proliferating and bringing upscale ingredients like super grains, mesclun and black lentils to a wider audience, as consumers come to expect more than shredded carrots and iceberg chunks.

In grocerants, serve-yourself salad bars never fell out of fashion and are a low-stakes place to showcase some of the more fashionable ingredients on the market. For some on-trend ideas, Chicago-based Datassential recently released its Salad Keynote Report. The firm’s menu research finds “burrata cheese, a creamy option seen as a premium alternative to mozzarella, has increased nearly 150 percent since 2012. Cauliflower, often prepared roasted or curried on salads, is up 70 percent in the same time frame,” and Brussels sprouts are now on 2 percent of salads, shaved or roasted as a flavorful topping.

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • House-made dressings added to the salad bar mix
  • A “daily roast” special showcasing different vegetables
  • Upgraded pickled vegetable options with red onions, fennel and green beans
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