A salad bar is a buffet-style table or counter at a restaurant or food market on which salad components are provided for customers to assemble their own salad plates. Most salad bars provide lettuce, chopped tomatoes, assorted raw, sliced vegetables (such as cucumbers, carrots, celery, olives and green or red bell peppers), dried bread croutons, bacon bits, shredded cheese, and various types of salad dressing. Some salad bars also have additional food items such as cooked cold meats, (turkey, chicken, ham, or tuna), cooked beans (e.g., chick peas, garbanzo beans or kidney beans), boiled eggs, cottage cheese, cold pasta salads, tortilla chips, bread rolls, soup, and fresh cut fruit slices.
The concept has been extended to additional foods beyond salad and toppings. For instance, hot food bars offer a selection of hot foods and dessert bars offer a selection of desserts.
There was a dispute over which restaurant first introduced the salad bar. The Freund's Sky Club Supper Club in Plover, Wisconsin is believed to be the very first salad bar. According to Russell Swanson of Swanson Equipment, In 1950 in the small town of Stevens Point, WI who had specialized in the manufacturing of bars for taverns had said "I'm most proud of designing and building that first salad bar." The Sky Club is still managed by Eric & Patrick Freund. Also, a 1951 Yellow Pages listing refers to the "salad bar buffet" at Springfield, Illinois restaurant The Cliffs. Hawaiian restaurant Chuck's Steak House claims to have had the first salad bar in the 1960s. Rax Restaurants – a Midwestern fast food chain similar to Arby's – claims to have pioneered the salad bar in the mid-1960s.
The New York Times claims that salad bars first began appearing in the late 1960s "in midprice restaurants like Steak and Ale, featuring bona fide salad fixings to keep customers busy and happy until the real food came. " Restaurant entrepreneur Norman Brinker has been credited with inventing and popularizing the salad bar. Other accounts, however, have the Salad Bar making its debut in 1964 at Andy's Mini-Diner, a South Florida Seafood restaurant. Its owner, Angelo "Andy" Gangi claimed to have come up with the idea for the salad bar while observing military men in the chow lines at the officer's club of the Homestead Air Force Base, an eatery Gangi managed during the late 50's.
In the 1970s, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises was based on salad bar-style food. In the early 1970s, Rich Melman's Chicago restaurant and singles bar R. J. Grunts featured an all-you-can-eat salad bar with over 40 items. The Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, claims that the term originated circa 1973.
Salad bars may be "all-you-can-eat", where the customer may make unlimited plates or bowls of salad during the meal, or be limited to a single serving. Paying by weight of the materials in the salad is also possible; this option is particularly common for carry-out sales. Many supermarkets also include a salad bar (for which customers pay by weight) in the produce or delicatessen section.