Portable hot food lines and salad bars are a great way to get fresh, wholesome food to diners.
The desire for fresh, healthy dining choices continues to grow. More and more, consumers want food they can feel good about eating—and more and more healthcare foodservice operators are offering such foods to reinforce the link between nutrition and health.
While fresh and healthy are the main considerations, neither consumers nor operators want to sacrifice convenience. Operators prefer solutions that are easy to implement and consumers want solutions that are quick and easy to find.
Which brings us to the salad/food bar. There is perhaps no easier way to offer a variety of fresh, healthy ingredients than through salad bar and hot food bar serving lines.
And it gets even easier if you use a portable bar rather than a stationary one. You can wheel the bar in and out of your dining room to make it an occasional, rather than everyday, offering. You can move it to different areas of your building on different days to serve different patients, residents and employees.
You can move it into the lobby or some other central location in the morning to encourage employees to buy to-go breakfasts and lunches they can enjoy at their work stations. And you can move it back into the lobby at shift’s end to encourage employees (and visitors) to take meals home.
There are few pieces of foodservice equipment more versatile in their application or better suited for promoting fresh, healthy foods.
Making bars better
Gordon Food Service Healthcare Segment Manager Dana Fillmore, RD, advises operators to focus on these factors to operate a successful portable serving line.
Showcase the right menu options
Salad bars are built to accommodate a colourful bounty of fresh vegetables and other salad fixings. That makes them ideal for showcasing local produce. Identify products from local farms and suppliers—that will add to customer perceptions of freshness. So will emphasizing seasonal items. Put them up front or in a dedicated space on the bar.
Be sure to provide choices for a balanced meal. Lean proteins, legumes and whole grains should supplement fresh produce. Soups and build-it-yourself bowls are ideal accompaniments to the produce spread. You also may consider offering a few more indulgent items to appeal to customers who don’t prioritize fresh and healthy.
Feature your most popular (and profitable) items in a prominent position—typically up front and at the entrance to the serving line. Otherwise, guests may fill their plates before they get to the foods you really want them to pick.
Make sure you keep foods looking fresh and beautiful. Stock the bar with enough product that it looks full and have containers of backup product ready to go. Accompany the fresh produce with soups and build-it-yourself bowls. Grain bowls and broth bowls can even be a stand-alone bar.
Keep food safety top of mind
Monitor temperatures. Any food can host contaminants, but some foods are more susceptible than others to the growth of pathogens. Foods that need time and temperature control for safety include milk and dairy products, eggs, meat (beef, pork, poultry and lamb), fish, shellfish and crustaceans, baked potatoes, tofu or other soy proteins, sprouts and sprout seeds, sliced melons, cut tomatoes, cut leafy greens, untreated garlic-and-oil mixtures, and cooked rice, beans and vegetables.
You must monitor TCS foods in salad bars and other self-serve areas to maintain these standards:
- Cold foods must be maintained at 4˚C or below
- Hot food must be maintained at 60˚C or above
Alternatively, you can use the time-frame method of controlling for food safety—simply remove any items that have been on display for two hours. Reduce the amount of time produce is out by making salad bar setup one of the last steps before meal service.
Minimize cross-contamination. Control cross-contamination on the salad bar as another way to keep food safe.
- When replenishing a bin, do not mix new and existing food. Replace the entire container when the product is running low.
- Always use sneeze guards.
- Provide individual serving tools for each item on the salad bar.
- Clearly label food options to reduce the customer’s desire to taste.
- Use signs to communicate that the customer should always use serving utensils, never return food to the line, keep their head above the sneeze guard and follow other etiquette protocols.
Handle food with care. Follow best practices for food handling. If purchasing pre-cut produce, always follow the manufacturer’s directions—most products are not to be rewashed because doing so introduces food safety risk and reduces shelf life.
Discard anything that might have been cross-contaminated, didn’t maintain proper temperature or sat out for two hours without temperature monitoring. Also, have a plan to handle leftovers, typically in cooked product.
Control food waste. Plan your menu choices and amounts carefully to minimize food waste.
- Start with a standardized recipe and document leftover amounts to adjust your forecasts.
- Use pans that are 2 inches and 4 inches deep—4 inches for more-popular items and 2 inches for less-popular items.
- Consider reducing the variety of food options offered during less busy times.
Offer convenient to-go containers. Encourage grab-and-go purchases by stocking containers that are secure and easy to use. Include proper handling, holding, refrigerating and reheating instructions with all of your items.
Market your salad/food bar
Food trucks use social media to advertise where they will appear daily. You should do the same with your portable salad/food bar—it can help create excitement and anticipation.
Use signs, labels and digital tools to identify menu options that are local, seasonal, clean, sustainable or whatever other features are important to your customers. This means you’ll have to ask what matters to them. For example, you may want to showcase a “farmer of the month” and provide photos and information about the farm.
Portable salad and hot food bars are a convenient way to meet demands for freshness, variety, customization and convenience. They can create an engaging experience for customers while helping further your goals for healthy nutrition.
Gordon Food Service has teamed with equipment manufacturer Burlodge to develop turnkey solutions for portable salad and hot food serving lines. Ask your Sales Representative for details.