(Oct. 31) SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — No one’s going to confuse McDonald’s with Chez Panisse unless he or she has imbibed a few too many 40-ouncers, or snifters of cognac, as the case may be.

But Ronald McDonald swiped an item from the fine dining menu when he added spring mix to the McMenu as the popularity of salads at quick-serve restaurants boomed this year. With fast-food restaurants from the Golden Arches to Dairy Queen, Taco Bell and Wendy’s offering not just garden salads but premium salads, consumers are finding more than iceberg at quite palatable prices.

Is it enough to make fine dining operators, um, Grimace?

California produce grower-shippers and wholesalers say no.

Joe Feldman, vice president of sales for specialty grower-shipper Pride of San Juan is one of them.

“Spring mix is so popular at fast-food right now that a lot of our customers want to be different,” he said. “And there are plenty of ways we can help them with that. We’re passionate about serving the gourmet aspect of our industry.”

Even though quick-serve restaurants now sell spring mix, he said, it’s not the same, high-end spring mix that fine dining operators serve.

Spring mixes vary significantly, and fine dining establishments want proprietary combinations, where fast-food operations focus on more traditional mixes, he said. Feldman said Pride of San Juan now adds edible flowers, pea shoots, baby lolla rossa and a variety of microgreens to many of its spring mixes.

In nearby San Francisco, the fine dining fanatic’s heaven, companies such as Greenleaf Produce also are helping their white-tablecloth customers find success with different leaves.

“We’re looking at different salad options,” said Andy Powning, produce specialist. “This year we marketed endigia from California Vegetable Specialties, and people loved it.”

Powning said his customers also were finding success with mache from Salinas-based Epic Roots and rucolla arugula, which is also known as sylveta.

“It’s saw-toothed and longer leaved,” Powning said. “It has more of a hot kick to it. It’s heartier and holds up better to salad dressing.”

Several grower-shippers and wholesalers pointed out that customers of fast-food and fine dining tend to be different and tend to look for different types of food, so menu competition, even in spring mix, isn’t significant.

They said fast-food diners look for convenience and price, and it has only been recently, as suit-happy lawyers turned their attention to fast food, that quick-serve restaurants have begun to offer healthier fare such as salads.

“Fast food salads still won’t taste as good as fine dining, in part because they’re precut and not made fresh,” said Gilbert “Gib” Papazian II, president of Lucky Strike Farms, South San Francisco. “Because of workers comp issues, they never have someone cut up a fresh salad, so they’ll be inferior to guys who make a fresh salad.”

But fine dining operators are not choosing to simply offer premium fresh salads, either. Their main competition is other white-tablecloth restaurants, and creative use of produce is a major way to differentiate themselves, suppliers said.