A food bar can add a new element to your restaurant, or you can use them to add ease and impact to your catered events. Certain foods work better than others with a food bar setup. It's also necessary to keep in mind general food safety and any health department requirements when designing food bars. A little bit of planning, the right food choices and the proper equipment can make this a viable part of your menu offerings.
Choose foods that require minimal preparation by the customer for the food bar. Salad bars are a common choice, which are easily complemented with a baked potato or soup bar. A pizza bar works well if you use parbaked pizza crusts. Customers top their pizza as desired then hand it off to an employee for final cooking. Taco and burrito bars use a similar method. Food bars don't have to serve only main courses. Cheese and olive bars can work in the right atmosphere, as can dessert or hors d'oeuvre bars.
Heat and cool food appropriately and to a safe temperature at the food bar. Bar equipment and cabinets are available with both heating and cooling units that allow you to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Simpler setups may depend on ice or chafing dishes to keep the food at the proper temperature. These setups are best for temporary use and catering, since they do require constant employee attention to monitor temperatures. Keep in mind that the health department does require sneeze guards over the food. These must be installed to meet local requirements.
Provide enough utensils and change them out often. You don't want people serving themselves with their fingers. Place at two serving spoons in each food bar dish. Change them out when they become dirty or if they migrate to a different food container. When replacing food in the bar, change out the serving dish. Using the same dish all day isn't attractive nor appetizing. It can also pose a food safety hazard. Employees must wear gloves and possibly hair nets when servicing the food bar, as well. Place table utensils and plates at both the beginning at the end of the bar line so guests don't have to back track if they forget a fork.
Keep the food bar well stocked throughout business hours. Even though most bars are serve yourself, assign one employee to stay with the food bar. This employee will monitor food amounts and let the kitchen know when to begin making refills. They must also keep the bar clean since spills will occur as people serve themselves. Restocking silverware and plates is also an ongoing necessity. An employee assigned to the bar also improves your customer service. They can answer customer questions and help those customers who have trouble serving themselves. If you have multiple food bars you should assign at least one employee to each bar during peak business hours. A single employee may be able to manage multiple bars during slow times.
Visit buffets and other restaurants that feature a food bar to get ideas for what you can incorporate into your business.
State and city health departments have specific rules governing a food bar. You must ensure that your bar meets these guidelines or the health department can issue a citation or shut you down.