I am terribly remiss in having discussed salad bars as a California thing. While the intention to build a salad may be California, dependent as it is on the availability of fresh produce, the idea behind it--lots of bits of food for people to choose from--must surely come from the Scandinavian hlaðborð tradition. Especially popular at Christmas, but available year long at most hotels, these are a very social and relaxing way to eat. People are encouraged to take their time, share their opinions of dishes with one another, go back again for more of the same or a little something new.
With Christmas just around the corner, I can look forward to hlaðborðs making their appearance again.