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Salad Bar Toppings & Ideas

Ideas from A-Z to Make Yours the Best in Town

I decided to write on this subject after going to one of the loveliest and most elegantly decorated dining places here in our beautiful resort community. Amidst all the elegance, they had the most awful-looking salad bar. Items were wilted, had brown ends, were poorly prepared etc. Choices in toppings were extremely limited. I sent one of my CCF business cards to the chef with my comments. He immediately sent out a team to redo it. This just showed me how easy it is to overlook this very important aspect of our overall service. As chefs, it is our job to take a moment and be sure our assistants are properly carrying out our orders. If we choose to do a salad bar, let's prepare it in a manner so that people will go away and tell their friends about it!

Over the years, salad bars have expanded the selection of items available and have become very popular in many different types of foodservice. For a salad bar to be successful, enough variety must be offered to enable patrons to enjoy creating their own salad. Basic rules for salad bars are as follows:

  • The salad bar should be equipped with a sneeze guard, and standards of good sanitation should be maintained. A clean plate should be used each time a patron visits the salad bar. Serving utensils should facilitate sanitary service.
  • A salad bar should look well-supplied throughout the serving period. This purpose can be accomplished by selecting appropriately-sized containers and by refilling them when they are one-half to two-thirds empty. Avoid arranging too few food items on plates that will look empty after only a few servings are taken.
  • Spills, drips, and misplaced food items should be cleaned up regularly. Arranging food containers so spills are reduced is important, and items that could become unsightly should be placed where they will be easy to reach and use from without spilling onto other food. Correct serving utensils will help eliminate untidiness.
  • The selections should be varied and creative enough to appeal to many different people. The variety of items offered should be changed periodically when serving repeat customers.

I took the liberty of polling all my friends on the Internet to see what they looked for on their favorite salad bar. The result of that poll, along with many years of my own experience, is a fun list of interesting toppings and other items to include on our bars:

Alfalfa Sprouts; Asparagus Tips; Artichoke Hearts; Avocado (slices); Almonds (toasted); Apples (sliced)
Beans: Garbanzo, Kidney, Lima; Black Eye Peas; REAL Bacon Bits (Note: I had more negative comments about the use of imitation Bacon Bits than anything else); Beets; Broccoli Flowerettes; Bean Sprouts; Blueberries; Brussels Sprouts (cooked and chilled)
Corn (baby-Chinese); Canned Corn; White Corn; Carrots (shredded is easier to disburse evenly on salad); Coconut (shredded); Cheese: Jack, Cheddar, Mixed Jack & Cheddar (grated), Blue Cheese (crumbled); Cabbage: Red & Green (shredded); Cauliflower; Celery; Cucumbers (sliced, run tongs of fork down sides of cucumber before slicing to create a pretty effect); Cilantro Leaves; Grilled Chicken or Turkey (diced); Crab Meat (imitation will work); Cashews; Cottage Cheese
Dates (diced)
Hard Boiled Eggs: whole, in shell (for children), diced, chopped
(Note: almost everyone wanted eggs on the salad bar)
Flowers (edible, to garnish the salad bar); Fritos (crushed)
Garlic Buds (that one surprised even me :-); Grapes (seedless); Ginger (red-pickled); Green Italian Beans
Ham (diced)
Jicama (diced); Jalapenos (canned, sliced)
Kiwi (slices, wedges, diced)
Lemon Wedges
Mushrooms (sliced); Melon Balls: Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Watermelon etc.
Noodles (Chinese dry; rice noodles are great!)
Onions: Green and Purple; Olives: Black, Spanish, Kalamata; Mandarin Orange Segments
Sweet Peas (frozen, thawed); Snow Peas; Pumpkin Seeds; Pine Nuts; Peanuts; Pecans; Pepper: Green, Red, Yellow; Pineapple Chunks; Pickled Onions (Recipe: Thinly slice 2 or 3 Red Onions, place in colander, pour boiling water over them, shake a second or two. They should still be crisp, but able to absorb vinegar. Pour cold water on them until nice and cool. Add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Keep overnight and serve quite cold.) Provolone; Italian Peppers
Raisins: Golden, Regular; Radishes (sliced, florets)
Sunflower Seeds; Sesame Seeds; Salami (diced); Fresh Spinach (rinsed very well); Banana Squash (grated); Spaghetti Squash (cooked & chilled); Shrimp (tiny cooked); Strawberries; Snow Peas; Sweet Potato (raw, grated)
Tomatoes: Roma, Cherry (whole); Tofu (marinated in sesame oil)
-U, V-
Whipped Topping for fruits; Water Cress
Yam (raw, grated)
Zucchini (shredded)

I could go on and on about salad bars. I usually use a nice blend of greens, then have my toppings, a protein offering, and finally, a fruit selection. Many salad bars include ready-made salads, like seafood, Chinese salad, potato salad, coleslaw etc. Many of the folks I polled found their favorite salad bars included desserts like rice pudding, Jello, chocolate pudding, etc. One important item mentioned often was SALSA to be offered as a fat-free dressing.

I hope I have given you some new ideas to dress up your dazzling salad bar.

Diane Boone
CCF So. Calif. Representative

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