In today's health-centric world, opening a salad bar can be a unique and profitable business, especially if you have a smart strategy from the very beginning. Like any business, you'll need the right licenses and certifications, a budget, a plan for hiring and managing employees and a marketing strategy. But there's also room to be creative in how you choose to present and run your salad bar so that it meets the needs of many types of customers.
Opening this type of restaurant requires logistics, from creating a business plan and developing a unique selling proposition to finding funding and everything in between.
Obtaining Business Licenses and Certifications
Before you invest too much time and energy into creating a salad bar business plan, do some research to find out what local requirements exist for opening a business and serving food. You don't want to be fined or shut down simply for forgetting this important step.
You'll likely need a general business license and perhaps an additional license for a restaurant. You'll likely need to register your company name, so make sure you've brainstormed salad business names and chosen one that you love.
Food handling and safety certifications may be required as well. You can find out all the details at your local chamber of commerce. It may cost a small fee to obtain these licenses and certifications, but you won't be legal without them.
Choosing a Location for Your Salad Bar
Next, you need to determine an ideal location for your salad bar. Choose an area where health-conscious people already congregate because they will take an interest in eating salads more than the average person. Near a popular gym or fitness center would be an excellent choice, but for now, you can choose a certain neighborhood or area of town to focus your real estate hunt.
Try to make sure your salad bar operates in an easy-to-find and safe location in order to encourage customers to stop by. If you know you'll provide high-quality options that will translate to higher prices, make sure it's in an area of town where people can typically afford your offerings.
Determining Your Unique Selling Proposition
As part of your salad bar business plan, you need to zero in on what makes your venture unique. Opening a salad bar is a pretty unique plan in and of itself, but why should people care to stop by your salad bar when there may be others in the area? How will you make salads sound like the best thing to eat for lunch or dinner?
One aspect to think about is variety. What kind of salad bar items and fixings will people be able to mix together? Consumers enjoy variety, especially in terms of food. Will fruit salad be offered?
Convenience represents another selling point. The premise of a salad bar makes it difficult to offer a drive-through option, but you can still offer pre-made salads as a possibility, for example. Whatever your unique selling proposition, it needs to be clear in your mind before it can become clear in the mind of your customers.
Food for Your Salad Bar
Make a list of all the different types of foods you want in your salad bar. Of course, track the sales of each type of topping to help you make future decisions about how much to buy so that you don't sell out or waste food. Include different types of meats, vegetables, sauces, beans, nuts and fruits. Be prepared to clearly display food allergy information as well.
You might even think about having pasta so that customers can create a unique pasta salad if they just aren't interested in something leafy. You'll also want to have some kind of dessert (perhaps a make-your-own sundae bar?) and a drink machine with various options. You have a lot of options, and they can make or break your salad bar's popularity, so choose wisely.
Next, figure out who will supply all of the food. It's good to have multiple suppliers for each type of food, just in case something happens to one supplier. You can choose to focus on local or organic suppliers if it makes sense for your unique selling proposition. Have a back-up plan, even if it means going to the grocery store to clear out their supply of lettuce.
Buying Salad Bar Equipment
Creating a budget is a huge aspect of any business plan, and you need to have an idea of the start-up costs you'll incur before you can seek out appropriate funding. Besides real estate and renovation fees, your salad bar equipment represents a large investment. The good news is, as long as everything stays in good working order, it's just a one-time cost.
You'll need permanent or portable food bars that can either keep food cool or warm, depending on what's displayed in them. These food bars should have sneeze guards as well. Stainless steel drop-in trays should be the right size to fit the food bar.
Some behind-the-scenes equipment will also be needed in order to safely store and prep the food. For example, you'll need a freezer or refrigerator in which to keep food, cooking appliances for the meat, prep counters for chopping and a drink dispenser.
Other Items to Buy for a Salad Bar
You'll also need to outfit your salad bar with bowls/plates and utensils. Whether you want environmentally friendly options is up to you, as this could potentially be part of your unique selling proposition. Think about your target customers and what they care about. If you find that they do tend to be environmentally conscious, offer recycling bins as well as trash cans in your dining area.
Speaking of the dining area, how will you furnish it? The aesthetic appeal of your salad bar will become part of your brand. Do you want a modern and chic look, or something more rustic and homey? Don't take this investment lightly.
On the mundane side of things, you'll need a cash register and point-of-sale technology. Offering modern options for convenience can put your business in a positive light among customers. Don't forget about things like cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
Hiring Employees and Creating a Handbook
A salad bar may be a self-serve operation, but you still need employees to handle the cash register, prep the food and keep everything clean and sanitary. It may take some trial and error to determine how many people you need to hire, but you can do some competitor research to help set you up for success.
In fact, maybe you don't imagine your salad bar as a self-serve buffet-style option, but rather more like Subway or Qdoba where employees assemble the salad as customers ask for certain toppings. There are some advantages to this route, including more control over sanitation and portions. But some disadvantages exist, including the need for more employees.
You'll also need to have policies and procedures written down in an employee handbook so that everyone understands the company's expectations. Decide what kind of perks you'll offer employees and how to pay them competitively but fairly.
Craft a Marketing Plan
You might have the perfect location, delicious food and enthusiastic employees, but without a marketing plan, few people will be compelled to visit your salad bar. A marketing plan should include traditional advertisement and digital marketing for a well-rounded approach. You also need a brand strategy, which determines the consistent tone and visuals to be used in all marketing campaigns.
Choose a marketing agency that specializes in creating graphics and campaigns for the food industry and that can provide multiple types of marketing for a cohesive strategy. Social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click ads can all work off of each other, as can billboards or TV and radio ads.
Your website should also be ready to launch before your grand opening. It needs to be easy to navigate on mobile devices and should prominently display menu options, nutritional facts, prices and directions to your salad bar.
Creating an Ongoing Budget
The next step in creating your salad bar business plan involves putting together a budget. You'll have a startup budget and an ongoing budget.
Your ongoing budget represents the monthly costs associated with running the business once everything is set up and officially open to the public. This will include the cost of the food and all disposable supplies, the cost of paying the employees, the cost of the monthly utility bills and the monthly rental fee.
All of these items can fluctuate from month to month. For example, during busy months, you'll buy a lot more food and may have to give more hours to your employees. It also may cost more money to heat the venue during the winter than it does to cool it down in the summer. Your budget is a living document, but you need something to use as a guide and estimate as you initially seek funds.
Creating a Startup Budget
Your startup budget includes the ongoing budget and all the one-time purchases. We've already discussed some of the big-ticket investment items that you'll only need to purchase once, such as the kitchen equipment, dining furniture and cash register. Make a comprehensive list of everything you need to buy once, as well as any related delivery or installation fees.
Your startup budget also includes all the prep work that goes into getting the site and building ready. You may already have a location selected, in which case you'll have a better idea of the extent of work that needs to be done, such as revamping the parking lot. It's rare to get a turnkey restaurant, but it can happen.
Don't forget about any fees that may need to be paid to consultants such as contractors, lawyers, marketers and financial advisers as you learn more about opening a salad bar.
Present Your Salad Bar Business Plan
Your salad bar business plan not only guides you as you open your salad bar so that you don't feel overwhelmed as you get deeper in the process, but also serves as a key document to persuade financial backers.
You'll need to transform your salad bar business plan into a compelling presentation in order to show potential investors why they should back you. It needs to be a robust plan that shows you have the knowledge and business savvy to hit the ground running once you receive funding.
You can have face-to-face meetings with investors or go the digital route with a webinar. You can even seek the support of average people with a GoFundMe or Patreon campaign. But all investors, whether they have $20 or $200,000, want to feel like they can trust you to deliver on your promises. A comprehensive business plan helps you achieve that.
- Contract with local farms and small gardens to get the freshest produce unless you are too far from the rural areas that make this possible.
- Don't forget high chairs for toddlers, booster seats for bigger kids and a child's salad bar menu. Parents are always looking for healthy dining options.
- Expect visits from your community health department on a regular basis. These surprise visits are conducted to make certain that your salad bar is operating under the rules and regulations set forth by the Department of Health in your state.
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.