These days, healthy eating isn’t just talk. Many food operators have noticed that the scales have tipped in the last 18 months as guests actively scour for healthy—yet delicious—menu options. This is not a dining trend, but rather a lifestyle change that has taken root in many American households due to the spread of food education via the Internet and television shows. Across the spectrum, restaurants offering salad now face considerable competition from the retail segment. The cultural movement toward healthy eating, along with the rise of the fast-casual segment and retail prepared foods—both strong channels for salad—continue to keep restaurant operators at attention. So how can you set yourself apart? How can you make your salad menu something worth leaving home for?
The answer: one-of-a-kind salads. It’s vital for restaurant operators to emphasize their uniqueness in order to keep salad lovers coming through the door. Be curious to see how far a salad can go and still be considered a salad. One-of-a-kind also means taking a traditional favorite, like Caesar salad, and making it better than that of your competition, or as we will explain, making it an experience. Promoting your salads as a “farm-to-fork” entrée is another way to stay a step ahead of the competition. The left side of the menu is often overlooked, but we want to take the time to reevaluate how to capitalize on the popularity of salads.
Consumers expect variety and something different on the menu. Catering to consumers’ need for variety when dining out—while also striking a balance between craveable, healthy, and innovative yet familiar offerings that justify price points— will be important in driving salad purchases. Operators may also have room to ramp up salad orders by promoting their appeal across day parts and meal parts. So let’s look at a few practical ways to promote salad’s appeal…
1. Consider All Shades of Green
Pick a sturdy lettuce for hearty ingredients and delicate ones for lighter toppings. It’s important that the greens are torn well. Diners don’t want to swipe a huge leaf of lettuce across their cheeks while they’re on a date. Remember, trend trackers are reporting that 2014 consumers are on the lookout for locally grown produce. Salads are a great way to work them in.
- Chicories and bitter greens
2.Warm Appetizer Salad…But Still Salad
We’ve checked the word salad in the dictionary, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be cold. In fact, warm salads are on the rise. They satisfy the desire for fresh produce and warm comfort.
- Warm salad of roasted squash, prosciutto, and pecorino.
- Orange, asparagus, and broccoli warm salad.
- Warm green beans, new potatoes, sliced eggs, and grilled onions.
3. Hold the Lettuce
Here are some great salads that don’t come in green.
- Vegetable Rainbow Salad: Combines some of the most exciting food trends into one amazing recipe: pickled vegetables, uncommon produce, ancient grains, and a cross-cultural dressing that includes miso and chipotle chile in adobo.
- Southwestern Black Bean Salad: There are hundreds of variations on how to combine black beans, corn, and other Southwestern ingredients. The secret is the balance of flavors.
- Cara Cara Orange Salad: For the chilly months, we love using the citrus fruits that are in season, like the cara cara orange in a citrus fennel salad.
- Cool Shrimp and Avocado Salad: This simple salad, accented by lime and red onion, may be light and fresh, yet the premium ingredients allow for a solid profit.
Some restaurants have started allowing customers to create their own custom salads, selecting items from lettuce to toppings. Some take pre-orders online with a simple checklist format, others do it right at the counter, and still others offer this option with a traditional sitdown lunch. Guests love to be in the driver’s seat, and they love when they can take the salad creation into their own hands.
Also, some may think that “kids” and “salad” don’t belong in the same sentence. The truth is that many parents aren’t comfortable with the options a typical kid menu offers. Junior garden salads are crawling into menus because moms and dads are asking for them. Leave out the mushrooms and onions, but load up on carrots and cucumbers. Putting kids’ salad in colorful buckets is also a help when getting kids to eat their veggies and when pleasing parents who want their children to eat more than French fries.