Rethinking Restaurant Salads for Maximum Appeal

It’s very common these days to review a restaurant menu and notice that every salad has animal protein on it: salad with goat cheese or bacon; salad with chicken, or salmon, or shrimp; salad with grilled steak. We’ve all seen this, right?

But take a look…is there an exciting, plants-only option for those who prefer plant-based salads? And no, this doesn’t mean the ubiquitous Garden Salad or its mini-me version, Side Salad, topped with a gloppy dressing.

Restaurants and food service operations, please consider: having waitstaff offer to ask the kitchen team simply to omit animal foods from vegetables (salads or otherwise) often results in a dish lacking in flavor and substance. Further, there’s almost never an adjustment to the customer’s bill to reflect the subtraction of that high-priced ingredient, resulting in a feeling of paying too much for too little.

Instead, wouldn’t it be delicious to see a salad featuring roasted nuts or spicy beans or marinated tofu (to name just a few options) as an optional element? In other words, provide the stylish salad with a choice of either animal-based or plant-based featured ingredients. Then every customer feels welcome and at ease, which helps them share positive comments about your establishment and return for a subsequent visit.

As a whole food, plant-based consumer, when I look for a restaurant salad, I dream about a wonderfully flavorful plate of greens (or another base), complemented by some interesting sliced/shredded/diced items, roasted or pickled or grilled or spiced veggies, and perhaps a bit of fruit or grains or beans or nuts or seeds for rounding out nutrition and adding sustenance. Even a small salad can have something special about its composition.

For dressing for plant-based and vegan customers, keep it light and fresh, with reduced or no oil for heart-health customers. (Some of the usual animal-based hazards in standard commercial dressings include eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, cheese, anchovies, and other animal items, including honey.) To add richness and substance to a plant-based dressing, use nuts or tahini or beans or avocado or silken tofu. Fresh herbs, spices, garlic, grated ginger, and citrus juice and zest, are some of the many seasoning options.

As we try to find answers to the health crisis facing America, small steps by restaurants and food service providers will matter. Providing salads and other dishes in a healthy and filling plant-based format would be a move in the right direction. Plant-based and vegan and even omnivorous restaurant customers will be thankful for these health-conscious choices and spread the word!