Salad bars and salad restaurants around the United States offer a quick means for the American diner to put together a stimulating meal or side dish. The perception is that salad is a healthy dining choice; in reality, Americans frequently put high fat and high carbohydrate extras onto their salads, wherever they consume them. Nevertheless, salad bars give a potentially healthy option in the world of otherwise unhealthy fast food, and form important menu choices for vegetarians.
Customers create their own salads in several different venues. Many restaurants offer salad bars, often on an unlimited basis, either for a small extra fee as a side dish to their regular offerings, or for a higher fee as a main course. Food markets offer their customers salad bars (and sometimes also hot food bars), charging by the pound or ounce; the customer may consume the salad on premises if tables are available or bring the meal back home or to a workplace.
A special type of restaurant concentrates on the well-known combination of soup and salad, or soup, sandwiches (including wraps), and salad. The dishes are frequently sold on an “all you can eat” basis. Souper Salad and Sweet Tomatoes are two of the better-known chain operations, with nearly 200 locations between them. At these cafeteria format establishments, the diner will take a tray and eating utensils, pay for the salad and any extras (like beverages, potatoes, or desserts, if not included), then create his or her own salad and choose from one of several type of soups and varieties of breads and rolls.
The number and breadth of selections at salad-specific restaurants tends to be greater than the offerings at salad bars in conventional restaurants or food markets. Typical “build-your-own” salad ingredients vary with the type of restaurant, its clientele, venue and price-level. Possibilities include:
- Lettuce: romaine, iceberg, arugula, and various other mixtures of greens.
- Vegetables: bell peppers, olives, onions, carrots, alfalfa and bean sprouts, beets, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, chickpeas, asparagus, green peas, carrots, artichoke hearts, pickles, radish.
- Nuts and Seeds: peanuts, sunflower seeds.
- Fruits: mandarin oranges, raisins, apple slices, peach halves, berries.
- Cheeses: feta, cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, American, cottage cheese.
- Proteins: bacon bits (genuine or soy-based), hard-boiled egg (in halves or crumbled), chicken strips, turkey breast strips, canned tuna (in chunks or mixed with mayonnaise in tuna salad), mini shrimp, ham strips, or roast beef strips.
- Starches: garlic croutons, chow mein noodles, pasta (usually easily-spooned small varieties like rotini or elbow macaroni).
The creation will ultimately be topped off with salad dressing. Oil and vinegar, vinaigrette, Italian, creamy Italian, French, ranch, buttermilk, Thousand Island, blue cheese, Russian, raspberry vinaigrette, poppy seed, and honey mustard are just some of the many popular varieties.