After fresh produce arrives at the back door – deliveries come in three times a week – staff very carefully check to be sure the food items meet The Big Salad's specifications and quality standards. "If produce doesn't meet our standards, we send it back," Bornoty says. "For example, if tomatoes aren't good enough, they won't appear on our menu."
The Big Salad uses traditional food distributors because they believe this allows them to maintain consistency among restaurants. "We purchase so much produce that, along with our distributors, we often work directly with the farms supplying the produce," Bornoty says.
Staff then unbox the items and immediately transfer the produce into tightly sealed containers that go into a walk-in cooler that also stores proteins. These containers help the Bornotys practice a tightly controlled waste management system that minimizes overall operating expenses. Staff place other products, such as frozen soups made to The Big Salad's specifications, into the upright freezer.
Staff prepare food twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the afternoon prior to the dinner period. "The key to freshness and waste control is to prep only what is necessary, as close to service time as possible," Bornoty says.
In order to ensure safe food handling, all managers must become ServSafe-certified. "Our food safety practices are very tightly controlled," Bornoty says. "We list very specifically what product is stored in which container. We specify date labels to insure that product is stored, rotated and used within a very specific time frame. Our kitchens have many charts depicting the procedures. All staff is trained for the first 10 days on how to prep, date and store products. We have standard training guides across all locations to maintain consistency."
Staff use knives and a large and small food processor to slice, dice and shred vegetables. "We receive about 80 percent of the produce in raw form and wash everything that comes in, including pre-prepped spinach and canned vegetables such as chickpeas," Bornoty says. Deep sinks and spray washers support the washing efforts. Staff also make salad dressings with a hand mixer.
After prepping vegetables, staff place the ingredients in a different container that either goes back into the cooler or onto the assembly line. Each container is labeled with the date the ingredient was prepared and then is only taken out of storage or placed on the line as needed.
The Big Salad units also contain a convection oven for baking bread several times a day.
The Bornotys are well aware of the high failure rate of salad concepts. "We believe that the only way to be successful when dealing with fresh produce and such tight margins is to keep waste low and produce quality high. The just-in-time inventory system keeps ingredients flowing regularly from the loading dock to the serving station. Waste also is minimized by delivering a significant portion of prep waste such as vegetable skins and ends to local schools for use as compost."
According to Bornoty, these practices allow The Big Salad to maintain 2 percent overall waste levels, which is below the industry average of 8 percent. Bornoty's goal is to achieve zero waste by repurposing other ingredients such as donating unused items to local farms for livestock feed.
When customers arrive, they see the results of the staff's work. After reviewing the menu board, they walk up to the assembly line that contains a total of 20 feet of refrigerated rail holding 30 different vegetables, 30 dressings, 8 meat and seafood toppings and 8 dry toppings. "We figure customers can select from 17 million possible combinations that salad chefs can create," Bornoty says.
Customers place their orders with one of seven or eight salad crew members who complete the process. Using chilled tongs, staff members place ingredients and lettuce from 3 large wall-mounted chilled containers in a chilled bowl that is stored in a custom bowl chiller that holds up to 800 bowls. Customers also select salad dressings from among 30 varieties in squeeze bottles sitting in a recessed counter. "The key to this process is keeping everything chilled all the time," Bornoty says. Staff offers tiny samples of dressings on pieces of lettuce to customers who are uncertain about which dressing they prefer.
Customers can order salads chopped, tossed, wrapped or sandwiched in one of our four bread choices. "We use a separate chopper for each chopped salad order," Bornoty says.
After chopping and tossing salads, staff place them on a plate that is stored in a custom plate chiller. Salads and sandwiches are served on plates held at 33 degrees F. Staff can then add a soup and bread to the order and hand it to a cashier. "This order is fulfilled by crew members talking and communicating with customers and the cashier," Bornoty says. "It's all about the customer having a positive one-on-one experience with a crew member. I call this process controlled chaos. When customers first arrive, it seems like chaos because they are figuring out what they want and how the process works. But soon they understand, and having fun with the crew becomes part of the experience."
Customers receive bottled beverages before they leave the cashier. They fill cups with fountain beverages at a nearby station. Customers eating in the restaurant seat themselves. A crew member busses tables after customers leave their seats.
As part of the overall waste management system, the Bornotys put in place precise ordering, inventory and purchasing systems that they access using notebook and tablet computers. "I tell my technology developers that if I can't access their systems from my mobile device, don't talk to me. We can even control the HVAC systems remotely. We save energy because we can continually monitor, even when we aren't in a particular unit," Bornoty says.
For product rotation, Elizabeth developed a system that enables products to come into and go out of a unit with the end goal of very little, if any, products left in the salad bins and refrigerated rail by day's end. A biometric clock system allows managers to monitor staff's compliance with work schedules.
In their journey to reinvent the salad concept, the Bornotys are combining what they consider to be the best systems using technology, storage, waste management and customer service. Systems, along with clear vision and dedication, are bringing a fresh spin to a concept that is meeting customers' needs for more healthful menu alternatives.