We Make Salads For A Living — Here's The No. 1 Ordering Mistake We See People Make

Read this and you'll never suffer through a dressing-soggy salad again.
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With Sweetgreen, Chopt, Just Salad and others (the list goes on) popping up in every suburban strip mall and on every street corner, it’s safe to say we’re living in the golden age of the to-go salad. While it’s pretty delightful that we can get a flavorful salad full of high-quality, healthy ingredients with a few taps on an app, I have to admit that I have some issues with these salads.

While they all have what it takes to be delicious and nourishing, I often find that if I order them with dressing mixed in, the lettuce is soggy if I don’t eat it quickly enough. If I order the dressing on the side, it’s usually not enough. And even if I do order enough dressing, the greens still end up soggy sometimes.

To find a solution to this common problem, I decided to go straight to the sources: People who actually craft menus and make to-go salads for a living. Below is the top mistake they notice, plus their top tips for making your to-go salad taste great.

The No. 1 Mistake People Make When Ordering A To-Go Salad

DIYing your salad may seem like fun in the moment, but according to experts we spoke with, that’s actually a huge mistake that can quickly compromise taste and texture.

“The No. 1 mistake that customers make is when they customize their order to the point where it’s a totally different salad than what it originally was meant to be,” said Steve Choi, CEO of Health Nut, a Southern California-based health food chain that has an extensive salad menu. “Customers think that if they just get more of a certain ingredient that they like, and less of what they don’t like, the salad as a whole will be better.”

However, he said, the reality is that salads on a menu have been thoughtfully created to provide a specific flavor, texture and color profile. “If you change it too much, it can substantially alter the chef’s original intent and adversely impact the overall experience.”

Ann Ziata, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, agrees that “more is not more.” “The No. 1 mistake people make is putting too many unique ingredients together and expecting everything to harmonize into a delicious meal,” she said. “If you’re going to put your own salad together, be intentional when ordering. Try to pick items with a variety of flavors, colors and textures. I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t love, and I still narrow it down to just a few to mix in with the leafy greens. You probably don’t need both sweet potatoes and carrots at the same time. Swapping in some eggplant, beets or broccoli will add a lot more interest and depth.”

Other Common Mistakes And How To Make Your Salad Taste Good

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that another common mistake is dressing-related. Debbie Roxarzade, CEO of Rachel’s Kitchen, a healthy casual eatery with a handful of locations in the U.S., said ordering your salad with the dressing mixed in is a no-no if you’re getting it to go.

If your salad contains hot ingredients like meat, order those on the side so they don't steam your greens into a soggy mess.
Zocha_K via Getty Images
If your salad contains hot ingredients like meat, order those on the side so they don't steam your greens into a soggy mess.

“It’s a huge mistake to order a salad to go and ask for the dressing tossed,” she said. “This often leads to it getting soggy and them being dissatisfied with the salad if they don’t eat it quickly enough.”

Chef Alec Gropman, director of culinary operations and partner of Bodega Mount Pleasant, a restaurant that serves to-go salads, added that you should ask for hot ingredients to be packaged separately. “You want to ensure that hot ingredients (like grilled chicken or roasted vegetables) come in a separate container to avoid limp greens,” he said.

As for the secrets these experts have for optimizing your salad, Ziata said it’s important to only ask for dressing on the side if you’re actually able to toss it in a real salad bowl. “Don’t ask for the dressing on the side — you can’t properly toss a salad in a to-go bowl. Of course, you’ll have to eat the salad quickly in that case — if the salad is dressed and sitting around for a while, the ingredients will start to wilt and become soggy.”

Ziata added that it’s always a good idea to add protein to your salad, especially if you’re eating it as a meal. “If you are getting a big salad, add a protein. You might as well make it a meal at this point, even if it means adding a few extra dollars,” she said.

If you don’t want to opt for the dressing the restaurant recommends for its salad (although you probably should), Ziata said to do your best to pick a dressing that will complement the type of salad you’re ordering. “Pick a dressing that will complement the salad. Raw, fibrous vegetables pair great with creamy dressings, while salads with more roasted and grilled ingredients can stand up to a pungent, mustardy vinaigrette,” she said.

If you’re paying around $20 for your to-go salad (let’s be real, that’s what they cost these days!) you may as well make it taste as great as possible. So stick with the chef’s menu when you can, consider whether you’re better off with dressing on the side or having it already tossed, and don’t skimp on the protein.

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