Independent food shops are making a comeback. The general public is getting tired of sterile supermarkets offering nothing but big brands. They want their food to come with a little theater and excitement. They want it to be unusual, different and, dare I say, healthy.
But the question of what makes a deli great is a tough one. What exactly is a deli, for starters? Nobody seems to be able to define it. Is it a boutique food shop? Is it a convenience store? What do delis offer that you can’t get elsewhere? Are delis about the food at all, or are they all about the experience? Can delis be glorified coffee shops?
Here we’re going to try to unpack some of these difficult questions. We’re going to investigate what exactly we mean when we talk about delis. And we’re going to find out what makes a deli great.
Great Delis Don’t Cut Corners
We’ve all been to delis that seem to want to cut corners. You know the delis I’m talking about. They’re the ones that shrink wrap their cheese and buy in pre-cut meat. Sure, it might make the food cheaper. But if you wanted to buy shrink-wrapped cheese, you’d go to the supermarket. Delis have got to be different, and they’ve got to emphasize quality. If that means changing suppliers, then so be it.
If You’re A Sandwich Shop, Don’t Call Yourself A Deli
Delis might be trendy right not. But that doesn’t mean that you should brand your sandwich shop like one. Be honest about what you’re doing. If you spend all day piling egg mayonnaise onto buns, you’re a sandwich shop. If you microwave steak and cheese and stuff it into a submarine, you’re a sandwich shop. If you’ve got a selection of sandwich fillings that take up half of your display, you’re a sandwich shop. This isn’t meant to sound snobbish or anything like that. It’s just that there is a real difference between a deli and a sandwich shop. And that different risks being blurred.
If You’re Selling Trinkets, You’re Not A Deli
There’s also a difference between a novelty shop and a deli. Delis should be living, breathing establishments selling real food. They’re not about sourcing jars of expensive chutney and cheese boards from Switzerland. If you’re selling cookery books, biscuits, knives and so on, you aren’t a deli. You are a novelty shop: and an expensive one at that.
Great Delis Are All About The Display
Delis are built around counters, such as those made by the Marchia Display Company. You should be able to go into a deli, place an order, and be able to watch it get measured out by the assistant. If your deli doesn’t cut food to order, chances are, it’s not a deli. The best delis make a thing of their displays. They don’t just lay out their cuts of meat and cheese and whatever else they might have behind the counter. They window dress theirs to make it all the more appealing. If you’ve ever been to a real deli, you’ll have noticed the time and effort that goes into making displays look amazing.
Great Delis Celebrate The Local Cuisine
It’s so annoying when you turn up to a deli in a new part of the country and find that it sells the same stuff as everywhere else. Delis should be a celebration of the local cuisine. They should source most of their products from the local area and give customers a feel for the region. Most delis have a strong Mediterranean bias. It’s almost out of habit. But there’re so many other styles of cuisine that your deli could champion. What about local cheeses? How about local meat? How about fish if the deli is near to a fishing town? The possibilities are endless: they just have to be explored.
Don’t Sell Supermarket Brands
Don’t start selling Walmart meat: steer clear. Charging customers twice as much for low-quality meat is a bad idea. If they want a piece of low-quality meat, they might as well go to Walmart and get it on the cheap. Also, don’t try to continuously inflate the amount of food a customer asks for. They’ll start getting really annoying with you if they ask for a quarter pound and you keep giving them a half.
Make A Point Of Your Labels
Delis can stand apart from the rest of the crowd by creating detailed labels for their food. It’s a genuine opportunity for differentiation from the regular superstore fare. Often customers have no idea whether what they’re looking at is the animal, vegetable or mineral. So give them a hand and get some great labels.