If you’ve ever worked at a hospital or senior dining retail café, you know the salad bar customers: the ones that come in, day after day, finding their lunchtime bliss by layering on crisp leaves of romaine, ripe cherry tomatoes, scoops of bean salad, maybe a crouton or two.
All that came to a screeching halt when threats of coronavirus meant the sharing, communal ways of dining we’ve come to know and love had to end in order to keep us all safe.
Healthcare foodservice operators from Cura, part of Elior North America, have been tinkering with some interesting ways to bring back a bit of the salad-bar feel while safely distancing at the same time.
“Across the board, we’ve moved away from ‘help yourself,’ ‘choose your own’ buffet styles,” says John Ward, GM of dining services at Holy Redeemer Health System in Meadowbrook, Pa. “Since that’s happened, over a period of time we saw that our customer satisfaction was down, as well as our revenue.”
So the team there, led by John Martinelli, retail director developed a made-to-order salad bar where a staff member stands behind a salad bar line with silver bowls at the ready to mix individual salads, all of which is visible—at a distance—to the customer.
Executive Chef J.T. Dunn developed a spec sheet/diagram or planagram for the staff, so if a customer chooses a composed salad, Caesar, for example, all the components are easily tossed together in the right portions. This allows for a level of customization—and conversation—that corresponds with the comfort level of each customer.
“And it’s not even been a week and we’ve seen great results,” Ward says. “It’s a nice little buzz that’s going around.”
At another Cura account, Punxsutawney Area Hospital in Punxsutawney, Pa., the healthcare staff was really missing the salad bar, had been “very loyal and were very vocal” about it, according to Ron Burkhardt, director of dining operations.
“I’d seen other accounts doing the manned salad bar,” he says, “but we’ve had labor challenges and employees who had daycare challenges during the pandemic, so I had to come up with something that could stand alone.”
The solution is “Sorta Salad Bar,” a setup with pre-portioned, pre-packaged containers of a salad leaf base (in 24 or 32 oz.) and then smaller ramekins of toppings, from diced grilled chicken to fresh veggies and beans. On the grab-and-go side of the café, pre-packaged items like potato salad or pasta salad are available. The whole area is frequently wiped down. So, guests are making their own salad, just in a slightly different way.
“It still has the appearance of the salad bar, but it’s safer,” Burkhardt says.
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