Grab-and-go has long been a top choice among consumers. People love to go to a deli business, pick up something to eat and bring it with them to:

  • Work
  • The park
  • Home
  • Anywhere

And while it’s easy to learn how to open a deli, it’s still a lot of work to run one. For every successful deli, you’ll find plenty that go out of business. You must provide customers with the food they want, great prices and offers that keep them coming back for more.

The question is: how?

If this is your first time running a business, you can’t know everything the moment you open a delicatessen.

We’re here to help.

We're going to provide you with real tips from deli owners who have been through the ups and downs of ownership and know what it takes to be a true success.

deli business

6 Tips to Run a Successful Delli Business

Your deli business plan is unique, or it should be, if you want to stand out from others in your area. It's crucial that you do a few things right from the start, including:

1. Create a Unique Menu with Your Own Special

Your menu needs to stand out from the competition. And your location can help you decide on what items to add that can help you reach this goal. For example:

  • If you’re in Philly or the surrounding area, cheesesteak is a local favorite.
  • If you’re in New Jersey and open for breakfast, pork roll, egg and cheese is a good option.

A menu will have a lot of overlap due to most delis being very similar, but it’s up to you to develop your own specials. A unique menu is one of the hardest tasks that you’ll undertake but have fun with it.

Create unique combos and have people try them to find ones to add or eliminate from the menu.

And if you don’t know what to add that’s different, consider offering more. Perhaps you have an all-inclusive menu that includes subs, a drink and some chips, too.

If you don’t have a special yet, try out new things every week until you find one that customers love. You can run polls to find out which item people like the most, or you can simply determine based on sales and requests.

In either case, once you come up with a special and find a reliable source for ingredients, you can then move on to the next step.

2. Let Customers Customize Their Orders

Did you know that 4% of the US population is vegetarian and 1% is vegan? And then you have people with allergies or other food preferences. You can’t cater to everyone with a static menu, and even when you offer customization, you’ll still miss some customers.

The ideal option is customization – to an extent.

For example, you may not want to store vegan cheese if only one person a month requests it because it will be a costly loss if you over-order.

However, you should allow customers the option to:

  • Add or omit certain meats
  • Add or omit condiments
  • Add or omit additions


For one, you can upcharge for some of the additions, and you’ll also cater to a much larger customer base.

3. Build Out Your Own Loyalty Program

Delis are a place where people will continue to come back time and time again. You can build a loyal base with “regulars” who order weekly and even some daily. Imagine a person going to work and deciding to order lunch multiple times a week.

You want to keep this customer around because they offer reliable income, right?

But how can you keep these customers loyal? You can remember their name and order, which CRM software will help you achieve. You can go a step further and have a loyalty program, too.

Many companies online can help you run the program, but the idea is simple:

  • Order X number of times and receive something free
  • Order X dollar value and receive points that can be used to make a purchase of something of the customer’s choosing

Starbucks may not be a deli, but you can analyze the way that they run their loyalty program and integrate the same concept into your eatery.

4. Offer Online Ordering and Delivery

If you’re in an area where you can deliver to customers, offer it. You can run the delivery in-house, but you also have so many options. Doordash is one such option that allows you to offer online ordering and delivery for a rather effortless addition to your business.

A deli is the perfect option for delivery because you sell the food that people want to eat while watching football or having a meeting.

5. Consider Catering Options

Catering can add a substantial amount to your bottom line. You can offer catering that allows you to secure large sales for:

  • Businesses
  • Sporting events
  • Birthday parties
  • Holidays
  • Etc.

You can offer premade catering packages or allow for custom orders over a certain value.

6. Market the Right Way

Finally, marketing will make or break your business. If you’re in the middle of a larger city, you may find many deli display ideas that can help you attract more foot traffic. You can market using multiple different avenues, such as:

  • Social media marketing. You can run paid ads on your social channels or use organic social media growth.
  • Paid advertising. You can pay to come up on the top of Google or local sites.
  • Run ads in local newspapers or even on the radio.

Marketing is going to be your main form of bringing in initial customers. But over time, you want to have people refer your business and word of mouth because it’s the best, free advertising you can receive.

Running a deli business is a lot of work and a labor of love. If you follow the tips above, you’ll have an easier time running your eatery. Over time, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the industry and know how to adapt first-hand.