Self service food bars and buffets can provide fast, affordable meals with minimum labor costs. Self-service systems can be used for:
|wider food choices|
fewer servers needed
food prep done before event
perceived as convenient, fresher, healthier
potential for faster service
|potential for waste- challenge of cost control|
increased quantities eaten
BIG food safety issues
requires careful planning for both selection and arrangement
requires adequate space and correct number of lines
Arrangement and presentation of the food matters. Plan your display with safety, economy, convenience, nutrition and appearance in mind. If the food bar is the only meal choice, the selection and amounts of food offered must provide sufficient foods from all food groups for all diners.
Circular: While it offers some aesthetic possibilities, the circular pattern is not the most space effective and sometimes causes directional confusion with the diners.
Single Line: Due to space restrictions, it is often necessary to use a single line approach. The primary advantage of this design is a more convenient and smooth flowing access for the user. As the size of the group increases, though, good traffic movement suggests setting up separate stations for drinks, desserts, and possibly soups or salads.
Two-sided Free Standing: The two-sided salad bar allows for many creative and dramatic displays. It can be placed in a prominent position away from the wall which helps to put it in the spotlight. To provide for a smooth traffic flow, place matching items on either side of the bar. This also reduces sanitation problems which occur from people reaching to the other side of the bar and dragging clothing or jewelry over closer items in the process.
Consider the placement of the bar. If you want to showcase the food bar, locate it near a high traffic entrance. If possible, place it in full view in a well lit area. Placement will affect the amount you serve and what people are willing to pay per serving, where this applies.
Once the arrangement is selected, consider SIZE AND SHAPE OF DISPLAY CONTAINER. Varying the size and shape of display containers on the salad bar encourages diners to take more of one item and less of another. Inexpensive items should be in larger containers with low sides so that the contents are easily visible to patrons. At the other extreme, the most expensive ingredients are placed in smaller or higher-sided containers so items are a little more difficult to see and remove.
Finally, consider TYPE OF SERVING IMPLEMENT. While sanitation considerations are important in selecting utensils for the salad bar, carefully chosen implements can also help control the portions most customers take. Inexpensive items should have implements that can be easily handled and hold a large amount of the product. As these ingredients come first on the salad bar, plates tend to be filled up early so that there is less room on the plate for more expensive items further down the line. Expensive ingredients should have utensils that make it somewhat more difficult to portion out the item. Be careful not to take this to an extreme by making expensive items too difficult to get at. The intended goal should be to make expensive items relatively hard to get so that indiscriminate diners don't load up on crab instead of carrots.
The size, height of the sides and width of the rim of the bowl, plate or platter will determine the number of ounces that can be placed there. As an example, a 9.5 in. x 6.5 in. x 5/8 in. oval platter may hold a maximum of 24 ounces of ingredients. At a salad bar, the quantity taken by the diners will likely average about 18 ounces. Some dishes no more than a maximum of 8 ounces while other pieces will hold more than 40 ounces.
For serving, plastic bowls are available in clear, colors, or simulated wood, and genuine wooden bowls are laminated to meet health regulations. There is also a wide variety of pewter-like bowls and plates from manufacturers who offer many styles to fit a specific decor. Pewter-like and glass serving bowls offer the advantage of maintaining the cool temperature and crispness of your salad ingredients. For permanent set ups or special occasions, consider renting equipment to pre-chill salad plates or bowls at the start of the line.
Ingredient containers are also available in many materials, sizes and shapes. Serve your more popular items in larger containers, and put less-used ingredients and garnishes and the more expensive dishes in smaller containers.
Serving utensils should match their use. For items such as lettuce and bean sprouts, use tongs. Beans and beets can be drained with slotted spoons. Small dry ingredients such as croutons and bacon bits require a spoon. Pickles and fruit slices are best served with a fork. Keep extra utensils handy and immediately replace any utensil that is dropped or contaminated.
Remember, sanitation is not only important for health considerations, but is critical in creating a food bar which is user friendly and desirable. Guest NOTICE when unsafe handling occurs.
There are three general types of commercial cold food bars available:
Which one you use will depend on which best suits your needs.
Ice tables are relatively inexpensive for one time use and look very fresh and appealing. While still widely used and quite practical for a single event, the ice chilled salad bar is the least cost effective for repeated use. It requires more maintenance than refrigerated units and the cost of ice replacement as well as the reliance on the ice machine may be too great to be practical or profitable.
Ice tables are relatively inexpensive for one time use and look very fresh and appealing.
The frost top salad bar has refrigerated piping running underneath the top surface; frost forms when warm air makes contact with the cold surface of the salad bar. This provides for a more maintenance free and cost effective set up than the ice chilled bar. However, since the surface of the salad bar actually freezes, any spilled items can freeze and stick to the surface.
The air chilled food bars keep items cold by blowing air over a refrigerated coil in a compressor located in the bottom of the unit, chilling from the bottom. This is the most cost effective type of salad bar to operate. They are typically less expensive than the frost top and use less energy to run. Because food does not freeze to the surface, it is easier to keep clean. Many of these units come in detachable sections which can be removed and rearranged to create different salad bar configurations.
A taco bar can solve a lot of complications related to the serving of tacos. The cafeteria prepares and displays the ingredients, but the diner arranges the layers in the order he or she prefers.
The biggest challenge at a taco bar is to keep both hot and cold foods displayed with proper temperatures maintained. Crock pots or chafing dishes or insulated carriers will keep meat fillings hot. Sealed plasticware or freezer baggies filled with water and frozen can be places in the bottom of containers of cold foods, or the entire container can be placed in an ice bath.
Arrangement for the taco bar begins with basic line arrangement, as illustrated, and changes with an increase in the number of items or additional toppings served.
|Taco Shells||Beans and Rice||Meat Fillings||Veggie toppings||Cheeses, guacamole and sour cream||Sauces and salsas|
Choices of ingredients on the taco bar might include:
POTATO BAR The same procedures used for other bar arrangements apply to the potato bar. The first component will be the whole baked potato, followed by the butter and sour cream, the hot and meaty sauces, and then the toppings. Temperature maintenance is important. Keep hot food items, including the potatoes, hot, cold foods cold using electric roasters, crock pots and ice as discussed in the taco bar section.
|Potates||Butter and sour cream||Veggie Sauces||Meat Sauces||Veggie Toppings||Cheese Toppings|
Toppings might include:
Sandwich bars allow diners to build their own "creations" and offer choices with little extra work for staff. To control costs, it is critical to arrange ingredients in the right order. This sandwich bar diagram is an example of the basic arrangement.
|Soups||Breads and rolls||Spreads, butter, peanut butter, mayonaisse||Lettuce,onion and tomato||Sandwich Fillings, spreads and salads||Sliced cheeses||Sliced meats or burgers||Toppings||Toppings||Toppings||Chips or other side dishes||Cookies or other desserts|
Some items to serve on a sandwich bar include: