There are few types of restaurants that don’t have salads on their menu; you’ll even find salads at fast food restaurants for diners who want to eat healthy.
Unfortunately, most restaurants consider the salad menu an afterthought, which is why you’ll find iceberg lettuce, cold cherry tomatoes, and bottled ranch as a staple on many menus, even if the rest of the food is really good. What ends up happening in these cases is that even though diners will say they want salads because they care about health and nutrition, they rarely order them.
The truth is that a salad can be a delicious addition to a meal, or even the meal itself, but only if it’s prepared right, and from the right ingredients. If you follow a few simple rules, you’ll be surprised at how many salads you go through, which can do a lot for your bottom line.
Crafting the perfect salad menu isn’t difficult or time consuming, but it does require a little creativity, and some prep work. A great salad can set the stage for a delicious meal, and it can show diners that fresh, healthy ingredients are important to you. Read on to learn how you can make amazing salads that will get rave reviews.
Get the Freshest Ingredients You Can Find
Even a basic salad can be delicious if it’s made from fresh, high quality ingredients. Instead of getting heads of iceberg or bags of greens from a large food distributor, consider visiting your local farmer’s market to get bright crisp veggies that are full of flavor and nutrition. It makes a big difference in flavor and appearance, and will help you sell more salads, especially if you mention you use local produce on your menu.
Even if stored properly, salad greens won’t last long. Don’t overbuy; instead, make a plan to shop once or twice a week. Some greens will last longer than others, so keep this in mind if you’re not able to shop every day or so. In general, delicate lettuce like Bibb or watercress won’t last as long as a head of hearty kale or cabbage.
Wash and Dry Your Greens Thoroughly
No matter where you purchase your salad greens, one of the most skipped steps is also one of the most important, and that’s washing your greens. Even bagged and pre-washed salad (not the best option for an impressive salad, by the way) can still have a few specks of dirt in it, which is not pleasant to take a bite of.
A salad spinner is the easiest way to do this, but a big bowl of cold water will work as well. Make sure your greens are very dry before adding dressing. Drops of water not only wilt the leaves, but dilute a perfectly made salad dressing.
Hire Someone Specifically For the Job
Depending on the type of restaurant you have, you may want to consider hiring a chef specifically for salads and cold dishes. Traditionally called a Garde Manger chef, he or she will be able to create amazing salads, cold soups, and other light foods for your menu that will have all your guests talking. He’ll know which ingredients go with what, and what types of dressings compliment certain produce. Typically, you’ll only find these types of chefs in fine dining restaurants, where a classical uniform is worn.
Season Your Salad Vegetables
Like everything else, salad greens can benefit greatly from a pinch of salt and a dash of fresh ground pepper, but since most salads are seen as afterthoughts, this isn’t done. If you have ever had a memorable salad that just tasted good with every bite, chances are it was seasoned before composing.
It doesn’t take any additional effort; simply put your washed and dried greens in a large bowl with a generous pinch of salt and toss. Add fresh ground pepper either before or after dressing for a well-seasoned salad that is surprisingly delicious.
Think About Texture
An ideal salad has a variety of textures, and none of them overwhelm the dish. You don’t want to add too many crunchy ingredients (nuts or croutons) without adding something soft (cheese or fruit.) In general, you want to choose only one ingredient from each category so that there is a layer of flavor and texture in each bite.
Make Your Dressings In House
While fresh vegetables are the star of a good salad, for many diners, it’s the dressing that makes the salad.
Bottled dressings, even higher end or gourmet options, are overly sweet, made with chemicals and preservatives, and tend to contain inferior oils that don’t add much to a good salad.
Making salad dressing is one of the easiest tasks in the kitchen; in many cases you can simply put all your ingredients in a jar and shake. Experiment with different vinegars, oils, herbs, and seasonings. A dollop of gourmet mustard can turn an okay dressing into something amazing. If you have a unique, house made salad dressing that keeps your guests talking, they’ll come back just for that.
One more salad dressing tip: Don’t drown your salad! No matter how delicious the dressing, too much will definitely ruin the salad. Lightly toss the salad with the dressing just before serving (never on the plate it will be served on; always in a large bowl) and if a guest asks for extra, serve it on the side.
Make a Few Entrée Salads
Side salads are easy to prepare, but consider having a couple entrée salads. You can add proteins, hearty grains, or even a poached egg for a salad that will get rave reviews as an entrée. These are often perceived as healthier options and will entice diners that are looking for a lighter meal.
Use Unique Ingredients and Techniques
Pomegranate seeds, different types of sprouts, or croutons made of nuts are unique and add appeal to a salad. A dressing made with avocado or a different type of oil will make your salads stand out, which people will want to try.
Don’t Forget That Sometimes Simple Works Well
While creative salads with lots of ingredients and well-flavored dressings are delicious and memorable, sometimes a simple salad is best, especially for house or side salad. Fresh, crisp greens tossed with a good quality olive oil and vinegar can be delicious if done right. A few homemade croutons add a bit of crunch, but you truly don’t need anything else for an amazing salad. Note that this doesn’t work with bagged greens and bottled dressings.
A good salad can encourage diners to order more food, but only if it sounds delicious on the menu, and then tastes even better than it sounds. If you find that your guests don’t order as many salads as you would like, it may be time for a salad refresh. Crafting amazing salads using fresh ingredients, homemade dressings, and unique ingredients isn’t that much more work, but it does make a huge difference. Make sure that once you’ve created your salads you make them sound appetizing on your menu. If you get your veggies locally, mention that. If your dressing has a unique oil or ingredient, mention that as well. Remember, you have to get a guest to order a salad to learn how delicious it is.