6 "Polite" Things You Do at a Salad Bar That Are Actually Rude

We hope it goes without saying, but please respect the sneeze guard.  

a photo of someone making a salad at a salad bar
Photo: Getty Images

If you love eating salads, you probably like making your own, especially at restaurants with a self-serve salad bar. From the restaurant's standpoint, hosting the salad bar allows the restaurant to expand their menu selections with more options. Still, it is a challenging feat, especially when the salad bar gets busy. While many diners follow restaurant etiquette, some well-intended gestures can create more work for restaurant staff. We talked to restaurant owners and experts who have encountered different situations—check out these six things that diners do at a salad bar that are actually rude.

1. You Use the Same Plate Each Time

Using the same plate is good for the environment and means less work for the restaurant's dishwasher. In reality, though, reusing your plate instead of getting a clean one could contribute to germs spreading. Using the same dish for seconds is just unsanitary—serving utensils that touch your dirty plate increase the risk of cross-contamination and germ transmission.

2. You Clean Up Your Own Spills

If you drop some veggies while you build your dream salad or accidentally dribble vinaigrette on the counter as you dress it, your first inclination is likely to be polite and clean up the mess. As much as this is a well-intended gesture, it's best to alert the restaurant staff instead. Restaurants follow strict cleaning and sanitizing procedures to minimize the risk of cross-contamination by using specific sanitary products to clean surfaces.

3. You Use the Same Utensil for Different Ingredients

When you notice that tongs or serving utensils are missing from an ingredient, we know you won't use your hands to pick something up. But, taking the serving utensil from an adjacent food item isn't any better. Paul Kusher, owner of Steam Pub in Southampton, Pennsylvania, and CEO of My Bartender, indicates that using the same utensil in multiple foods can create many issues. "You are promoting cross-contamination, especially when food allergens are a major concern," Kusher says. "Using separate utensils for each ingredient keeps everyone safe and the ingredients tasting their best." So, if you can't find what you're looking for, just ask the staff to bring you the right tool for the job.

4. You Use Your Own Cutlery to Get the Food

Sometimes when you grab a plate from the start of the salad bar, you get silverware too. If a serving utensil is missing, you can use your fork since it's clean, right? While you may have clean cutlery in hand, asking for serving utensils is recommended. Silverware is often smaller than the utensils paired with the ingredients on a salad bar, so they're usually not the right tools for the job. Their small size can increase the chances of dropping things in other ingredients, a recipe for cross-contamination, or on the counter or ground, creating unnecessary work for the staff.

5. You Lean under the Sneeze Guard to Grab Something to Help Move the Line Along

We've all been in a slow-moving salad bar line. As much as you might want to duck under the sneeze guard to grab something to help move things along, please don't. "Leaning against and under the sneeze guard is not sanitary," says Kristin Nauss, M.S., RD, founder of Buying School Food. She adds that the purpose of the sneeze guard is to reduce the spread of germs by protecting the food from respiratory droplets, hair and physical objects dropping onto it. If you can't reach something, ask for help

6. You Don't Tell Anyone That an Item Is Empty

You're progressing through the line only to find that the ranch dressing is running low or the cucumber container is empty. While you may feel like you're inconveniencing the staff by letting them know that something is running low or out, telling them is the right move. While the salad bar attendant passes by frequently to check the levels of ingredients, sometimes they get busy doing other tasks. Letting them know when things are running out or running low ensures that everyone gets to make their ultimate salad.

Bottom Line

Building your own salad at a salad bar can be a fun and seriously delicious experience. With the seemingly endless options, there's a salad for everyone! Following certain etiquette can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone. Don't hesitate to flag the team down if you have an accident or notice items are running low or serving utensils are missing—they would be more than glad to help.

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