How to Run a Deli Business

If you decide to run a deli business, it's a sure bet you will have many customers flocking your way as long as you run a tight ship. Running a deli business is no different from running any other small business, except that you must pay more attention to perishable foods and handle busy lunchtime periods. It also helps to have previous experience in the food industry.

Maintain your business license or permit. You do this by maintaining your finances and by passing your annual state health inspection test, conducted by your state's Division of Food Safety. During this test, a food inspector analyzes your deli for cleanliness, employee hygiene, and safe food storage.

Stock up on your food supplies at least once per week with your deli distributer. Most delis sell chicken, turkey, roast beef, steak, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, sausage, and bologna. You should also include some exotic meats, breads, and cheeses, such as serrano ham and gruyere cheese.

Stock up on popular lunchtime drinks, such as coffee, soda, smoothies and bottled water. You may also want to include fruit drinks, sparkling water, and energy drinks.

Hire friendly, capable servers that can handle your average daily quota of customers (perhaps between 200 to 300 customers for the average deli). Your servers should be efficient, courteous, and able to handle busy lunch periods. Set up a penalty system whereby servers who are late or break a rule are written up, and fired after three write-ups.

Create a relaxed vibe. Most deli customers are lunchtime customers and are looking for not only good food, but also a place to put their feet up for awhile. Play some laid-back jazz music on your deli's stereo system and decorate the deli with vintage posters or other novelty items.

Strike the right balance between your monthly overhead and your prices. If you have a stiff rent, you are more than likely in a prime location and can charge more for your food and drinks. If you have a low rent, you can sell your items at a lower price and still turn a respectable profit.

Build a solid client base. As your deli business is getting off the ground, ask your family and friends to spread the word about your new venture. Once you build a loyal client base, set up an incentive program whereby clients earn a discount if they refer a new customer to you.

Market your deli business on all fronts. Do paper ads, radio ads, television ads, and website ads. The last type of ad is often the cheapest and most effective--all you need to do is set up a well-organized website for your deli and upload your menu. You may also want to set up your website using Search Engine Optimization (SEO), a method that directs more traffic to your site.


  • You should also include some organic meats and cheeses on your menu, since the trend for organic foods is at an all-time high. Continually revamp your menu with new items and meals. Once your business turns a higher profit, for instance, you may want to start adding ethnic meals such as lasagna or burritos.


  • Get ready to put in long hours if you decide to run a deli. Most deli owners work six days a week, working from the deli's opening time to its closing time.