What is a Salad Bar?

Dee S.
Dee S.

A salad bar is a place where customers can make their own salad. The buffet table or countertop can be found in many restaurants and supermarkets. Some of them offer a smorgasbord of food, while others offer the basics. Typically, customers grab a plate or a carry-out container and wander around the table or counter top, piling the leafy salad and its accompaniments quite high.

Escarole is sometimes found at salad bars.
Escarole is sometimes found at salad bars.

In some cases, the salad bar only provides the most mundane salad items. Iceberg lettuce, grated cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, and croutons, may be all that is offered. There will always be selections of basic salad dressings. For example, classic Italian, creamy ranch, and oil and vinegar will be available, regardless of the dullness of the other salad-making options.

Bean sprouts at a salad bar.
Bean sprouts at a salad bar.

In other restaurants, the salad bar seems stocked with endless options. Restaurant-goers can choose from iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, or baby spinach. Of course there will be the usual suspects – tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, and mushrooms; however, there may also be baby corn, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, bacon bits, hard-boiled egg slices, tofu, peas, and other vegetables. It is not unusual to find fresh fruit, homemade soups, an assortment of crackers or dinner rolls, flavored gelatin, and pudding at the bar, as well.

A salad.
A salad.

Occasionally, a restaurant or grocery store may offer customers a selection of pre-made salads through the salad bar, as well. For example, they can have bowls filled with Caesar salad, Italian salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad. In addition, they may have an assortment of deli meats, such as turkey, roast beef, and ham, for those who want to create a meaty Cobb or chef salad. Some offer pizza, hot pastas, and other warm dishes, too.

Greens from a salad bar.
Greens from a salad bar.

There are several ways that people can pay for eating at the salad bar. Many restaurants give customers an option of heading to the salad bar one time for a set fee or having unlimited trips for another increased fee. For people who prefer one plate of salad as part of their meal, the single trip is the best option. For others who want salad to be the primary portion of their meal, a limitless opportunity to graze may be bests.

Salad bars offer eating options to customers.
Salad bars offer eating options to customers.

In grocery stores, payment for the salad bar is usually by the pound or gram. Consequently, customers create their salad in a to-go container. The salad is then weighed upon checkout and the price is subsequently calculated. Since salad can quickly become heavy with plenty of vegetables, salad dressing, and cheese, it can become quite pricey, if the customer is not careful with her selections.

Salad bars often feature hard boiled eggs.
Salad bars often feature hard boiled eggs.
Bacon bits are often part of a salad bar.
Bacon bits are often part of a salad bar.
Salad bars offer a variety of salad dressings to choose from.
Salad bars offer a variety of salad dressings to choose from.
Croutons are found on many salad bars.
Croutons are found on many salad bars.
A salad bar often consists of an assortment of deli meats, including roast beef.
A salad bar often consists of an assortment of deli meats, including roast beef.
Bamboo shoots may be found on some salad bars.
Bamboo shoots may be found on some salad bars.
Some restaurants and grocery stores might offer pizza slices in their salad bars.
Some restaurants and grocery stores might offer pizza slices in their salad bars.
Baby spinach is a common addition to a salad bar.
Baby spinach is a common addition to a salad bar.
Many salad bars feature Greek salad with cucumbers, feta, and tomatoes.
Many salad bars feature Greek salad with cucumbers, feta, and tomatoes.
Fresh fruit is commonly found on a salad bar.
Fresh fruit is commonly found on a salad bar.
Some buffets offer healthy choices, such as a salad bar stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Some buffets offer healthy choices, such as a salad bar stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments

anon333469

I guess it depends on which part of the world you come from. Your description of a salad bar is very good and very informative, to say the least.

The term salad bar in Australia, refers to a refrigerated display cabinet which displays salads, pre made sandwiches, focaccias etc. Modern salad (also called sandwich) bars have a refrigerated under bar, beneath the top display for holding salads for a quick top up during busy periods of the day.

The salad/sandwich bar can be either self serve for in restaurants, or have a glass canopy which is served over such as in a cafe, Subway etc. Cold wells are the older style of keeping a salad/sandwich bar, which only keeps the bottom of the display cold. The top section which is in contact with the atmosphere is always well above 5 degrees C in these type of cabinets.

The modern salad/sandwich bar does have an air curtain which should blow air at around -5 degrees C in order to keep food below 5 degrees C, and the air humidity level should also be high at about 80 percent RH in order to stop the salad from drying out and going limp. It is difficult to find a company that actually manufactures a sandwich bar that operates below 5 degrees C, as well as holding a humidity level of 80 percent RH. I use to work in the refrigeration industry in Australia, and there are only two Australian manufacturers I know of that make salad/sandwich bars that are the real deal and work 100 percent the way they should.

While I was working there, the owner of the business bought some cabinets from Europe and China from reputable companies, but they failed their testing process. The European cabinets were built better than the Chinese cabinets – no doubt about that -- but amazingly, their operation was no better than the Chinese cabinets. Both the European and Chinese sandwich bars ran at very high temperature for salad, and in an ambient temperature of 20 degrees C, both of the cabinets ran at 8 degrees C, at a humidity level of 60 percent, which is way to dry out a fresh salad. It would dry the salad out quickly, making it go limp.

If you are thinking of buying a salad/sandwich bar for your business, don't bother buying European or Chinese. Pay the extra money and have one custom made, but ensure on the contract they give you a guarantee the air curtain will be running at 3 or 4 degrees C and at around 80 percent RH (relative humidity). Buy yourself a temperature data logger so you can measure the air temperature as well as the humidity level. If the cabinet you purchased doesn't meet these specifications, ask for your money back or get them to make it run properly, as that is what you have paid for.

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