This article first appeared in the 1 November 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
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Easily marketed as being fresh and flavorful as well as a lighter choice at lunch, salads see rising popularity especially at business-and-industry (B&I) operations, schools, hospitals and casual-dining restaurants. Caesar salads are gaining popularity at family-dining operations; cobb salad is strong in casual dining.
What do diners want to top their greens? Ranch/buttermilk dressing reigns supreme, but balsamic vinaigrette earns the No. 2 spot on the list of salad dressings increasing in sales, and raspberry-based (or other fruit-based) vinaigrettes take the No. 4 spot on that list while ranking No. 1 among dressings operators are considering adding.
Other Menu Census insights into specific salads:
Caesar: Among all subgroups, hotels are most likely to report an increase in sales of Caesar salads-three in 10 noted a sales boost. Caesar salads with shrimp, chicken or another protein are more likely to register rising sales than their non-protein-enhanced siblings, but even plain Caesar salads see more-consistent sales increases across restaurant genres than almost every other salad type.
Steak: Care for some steak with your lettuce? Hampered only by their poor showing at schools and cafeteria/buffet restaurants, steak salads rate strong on the census for most operators. They place fifth on operators' thinking-of-adding list among salads included in the survey, and they tie with Caesar salads and a house signature salad as No. 3 on casual-dining operators' increasing-in-sales list.
Grain-based: Not surprisingly, colleges and universities lead the way in serving and selling salads that feature tabbouleh, couscous, rice or other grains. Among operators that offer salads, more than one-third (34.8%) of higher-education institutions say they menu at least one grain-based salad, slightly ahead of business and industry operators (30%) and well ahead of all commercial restaurant operators (6.1%).
Specialty: Salads featuring increasingly well-known greens such as arugula, radicchio and endive register their strongest increase in sales at fine-dining restaurants, but specialty salads' popularity is climbing respectably at hotels, too.
Taco: Schools give the crunchy salad a significant ratings boost on both the best-sellers and increasing-in-sales lists, but strong-and-growing sales also are reported at limited-service restaurants and hospitals. -C.L.