The perception of fresh

There's this restaurant called Sweet Tomatoes. Total chain, nothing hot about the design of the place. But it's a great concept, and it's generally very well done.

Think of a salad bar. What comes to mind? You may picture your last hotel's creepy restaurant, or the "special" salad bar that Wendy's used to have, or your old college dorm's cafeteria. Either way, a salad bar is a disappointment.

You think, "I can make MY salad, MY way!" Haha, wrong. The lettuce is white, the carrots are sad, and the random egg is scary. No variety, no appeal. You sit back down with your empty plate.

Now picture this. Sweet Tomatoes has a salad bar like, a block long. It includes everything you could possibly imagine on a salad. There are multiple colors of peppers, multiple sizes of tomatoes, multiple types of lettuce; there are raisins, sunflower seeds, wonton noodles and parmesan croutons; there are beets, pickles, artichokes and olives. There are four kinds of pre-made salad at the front. There is everything under the sun, and it's all fresh.

Now Sweet Tomatoes is very focused on "fresh" - every item in the bar is brightly colored, the surfaces are kept clean, and there are attendants refilling everything constantly. Even though I've never seen the place less than packed, it is always clean. But I have a small bone to pick with this freshness thing, because they are taking it a little too far.

At the entrance to the salad bar, where you pick up your plates, there is an attendant making pre-made salads. On the countertop are little tomato-shaped timers, one in front of each giant salad bowl. They look to be set for 20 minutes each. Upon a salad sitting for 20 minutes, it appears as though it will be re-made, or thrown out, or something. You think, "Sweet, I can feel confident that this salad is less than or equal to 20 minutes old!"

But wait, the timers aren't on! I picked one up, and noticed it wasn't ticking. Then I noticed none of them were ticking! I felt so completely tricked!

I think it's great when a place shows off its "freshness" and follows through on that image. And Sweet Tomatoes, for the most part, does. But I've heard a lot lately about "fresh - or the perception of fresh." Americans seem to be all about fresh these days. We want to know that everything we touch is completely virgin, just plucked off the tree not eight seconds before we arrived. But this cannot be reality, and so we are left with the "perception of fresh" everywhere we turn. Stores look fresh so their food looks fresh. Places use color and font and signage and the word "fresh" all over the place so that you feel you are getting something new, original, unique to you.

But really, when you pick up 25 apples and choose 3 in the grocery store, those other 22 apples will be bought by someone else! Now their apples aren't fresh! But do they care? Do you care that yours were probably touched too?

I think we need to stop pretending that everything is fresh. It's not. If Sweet Tomatoes were using those timers, then great. But if they're just part of an image, I think they can give it up. Consumers are a little smarter than that.


gone said...

Welcome back.

A big salad bar sounds great, being veggie.

I'm gonna find the one closest to my place of employment and make a lunch date with myself.


kaysealove said...

Yeah -lunch date with self- I will have to try that.

hillary said...

1. wendy's salad bar rocked. why? because they had mexican food on it. what the?!

2. is this place in chicago?

3. people who are worried about germs and freshness freak me out.

4. these comments aren't really what your blog is about (i need to go to bed).

Stacy said...

The only thing is, if they used the timers, then they really would have to throw out all that salad after 20 minutes. And that seems like such a waste!