Fresh Ways With Food Bars

Salads not the only food worth putting on a bar

Karen Weisberg, Freelance writer

For foodservice-at-retail operations, self-serve food bars are an ideal way to offer creativity and customization. Salad bars are a given, but consider the differentiation brought to your business with pasta, baked potato, chicken wing or even PB&J bars.

At Rutgers-New Brunswick, the State University of New Jersey, students have the option of visiting a deli bar, a taco bar and even an ice-cream bar.

"Our ice-cream bar is among the top three most popular bars," says Joe Charette, associate director of dining services. Tubs of at least a dozen flavors are set into an ice-cream chest. Soft-serve frozen yogurt is also available--and toppings, of course. Here, Heath bars, gummy bears and Reese's Pieces vie for attention along with sprinkles, marshmallows and more. Students can build their own cup or sugar wafer cone using one of several scoops that stand at the ready in a container within the freezer's wet well.

[image-nocss]There's actually a deli bar in each of four all-you-care-to-eat dining halls on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus. They boast an assortment of sliced meats including a "special meat of the day" that might be hot pastrami, hot prime rib or sopressa, a popular Italian aged salami. Assorted sliced breads, composed salads, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, onions, chips and condiments round out the offering.

Meanwhile, an ever-popular taco bar runs as a once-a-week promo on the New Brunswick campus. Students pick up their corn tortilla shells, then fill with chili or a choice of pulled pork, chicken or beef (plus, there's always a vegetarian option). The must-have toppings range from sour cream and guacamole to jalapeno peppers and onions.

Over at Penn State in State College, Pa., students enjoy the 'Tini Tuesdays mashed potato bar. Three varietiesmashed Yukons with horseradish, whipped potatoes and smashed redskinsare set out in martini glasses (yes, real glass) along with an array of toppings including golden gravy, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, shredded Cheddar, fresh chives, bacon crumbles, sour cream and whipped butter.

"This is all part of our all-you-care-to-eat program but, portion control-wise, it's a nice little serving," says Jennifer Krise, manager of food services.

The Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle, Idaho, offers a wide selection of ideas for baked or mashed potato bars on its website. Among them: sun-dried tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, sausage pieces and horseradish sour cream. Click here for a full list of potato bar ideas.

Pictured above: a mashed potato bar creation, courtesy of the Idaho Potato Commission.