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Salads play starring role on today's menus.

Americans are choosing salads when they dine out, often as the main course in their meal rather than as just a side dish.

An analysis of the contents of menus in use today reveals that over two-thirds of those menus with entree sections include main-dish salads among their offerings, up significantly from 55 percent just five years ago.

According to the National Restaurant Association's 1992 Menu Analysis (scheduled for release in early 1993), the total number of main-dish salads jumped by 40 percent between 1987 and 1992, most of it from spiraling gains for poultry salads, such as chicken fajita salad, as well as for combined salads, such as fruit and yogurt combinations and Cobb salad.

The 1992 Menu Analysis, which compares the content of 50 menus in use in 1987 with current menus from the same 50 establishments, also detected a 25 percent increase in the available number of that old standby, the green side-dish salad (also referred to as a "leaf" salad). Included here are such items as Caesar salad, tossed salad, the "house salad" and greens with sherry shallot vinaigrette, as well as more exotic offerings such as spinach salad with feta and black beans or romaine with blue cheese and croutons.

Despite the rising popularity of main-dish salads, it is clear restaurateurs still view side-dish salads as a profitable menu item. Half of those restaurants with green side-dish salads on the menu in 1992 offer more than one variety.

But the forthcoming Menu Analysis--whose contents will be summarized in the association's 1993 Foodservice Industry Forecast, to be released this December, and which will be published in its entirety in early 1993-is just one indicator that restaurant patrons are thoroughly enjoying their "salad days."

According to Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends (CREST), a diary survey on food consumption away from home, nearly one in 20 restaurant orders were for main-dish entree salads in 1991. In addition, restaurant patrons included side-dish salads in more than one out of 10 restaurant orders that year.

As for meal periods, lunch accounted for 51 percent of all main-dish salad eater occasions in 1991, with dinner accounting for 46 percent. Side-dish salads were ordered nearly twice as often at dinner (63 percent of all eater occasions) than at lunch (35 percent) in 1991.

Clearly, today's consumers expect more than iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, as the expanding market for specialty vegetables such as endive, snow peas and Chinese cabbage demonstrates. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, the supply of fresh specialty vegetables (including U.S. domestic production and imports) has almost tripled since 1980. Total supply increased 8.3 percent from 1990 to 1992 alone.

More recently, the National Restaurant Association surveyed tableservice restaurant operators and found that nearly all would serve salad dressing on the side upon request. In addition, according to the association's Tableservice Restaurant Trends: 1992, over two-thirds of operators with an average per person dinner check of under $15 offered reduced-calorie salad dressing in 1991, as did about two in five operators with an average check of $15 and above.

In addition to endless variety, salad consumers are finally demanding that what goes on top--the dressing--measures up to the healthful standard of the fresh ingredients below.

According to a 1991 special National Restaurant Association/CREST study, 61 percent of orders for a main-dish salad were by women, compared to 39 percent by men. When it came to ordering side-dish salads to precede or accompany an entree, however, the sexes were more evenly matched; nevertheless, women still accounted for slightly more side-dish salad orders (54 percent) than men (46 percent).

Proving that age begets wisdom--or that one can always reclaim one's "salad days"--the majority of restaurant salads were ordered by patrons 35 years old and over last year. Patrons in this age group accounted for 70 percent of main-dish salad orders, compared with just 51 percent of all restaurant orders.
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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:657
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