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Does A Salad Bar Need Process?

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Oct. 5th, 2009 | 02:23 pm

Today, I figured out what is wrong with the Whole Foods* salad bar. Each time I have visited it, I have walked away with a culinarily disappointing salad. The problem lies in focus. In an effort to appear diverse, they have added a couple ingredients from many different cuisines. A couple Italian items, a couple Indian items, some vegan/hippie stuff, some standard American salad fare, etc. The trouble is, once you decide which theme or concept to approach in your salad, you find the other key components are missing...and ultimately, your vision falls flat with slipshod replacements. For instance, if I wanted the most basic of Greek salads, there is no feta. I have to pick my olives out of the olive/artichoke mixture. A balsamic vinaigrette isn't seasoned right and if I wanted a protein my only choice is a plain Jane chicken, not marinated or grilled or otherwise customized.

The best solution to this problem would be a simple exercise. If you've been to BD's Mongolian BBQ, their setup is genius (though I have my own thoughts on their execution in the fire...that is another topic). Their strength is not only having the salad bar, but for the unimaginative they also have recommended recipes posterized next to the bar. If Whole Foods were to put together only a few of these recipes with vegetable, protein, dairy, crunch and dressing pairings, it would not only be a boon to the salad bar patron, but it would give a plan to the bar preparer as well.

As random as this discussion might seem, it is a great metaphor for our industry. Just like the designer/firm who pitches by skirting around a lack of expertise in any pre-defined area(s), instead wasting time pointing out snippets of all of the hundreds of wonderful things touched on, the salad bar will ultimately fail without focus. Sure, a great client can come in and push the limits of your core offerings, allowing you to mix and match until some new and previously unseen solution is found...but that experimentation comes as an evolutionary layer atop a previously refined foundational recipe/process.

The mark of a great tradesman then becomes expertise with the ability to opportunistically diversify, rather than a Jack-of-all-trades, expert at nothing. Then, if nothing else, your base offering is still a really great salad...rather than a hodgepodge of substandardization.

* The location next to the office in DC. Perhaps another is better.

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