The Deli (s) that Died

On my daily travels I tend to notice things.

These days it is usually the rising price of gas that I notice!  Nevertheless, when I noticed a second new Deli open in the same location as a former (new) Deli on a busy stretch of the Boston Post Road I wondered to myself – how long will this one last?

Well over the course of about a year and a half I saw two new businesses – 2 new and hopeful Delicatessens open their doors for hungry customers and then within a couple of months shut the doors for good (out of respect I would rather not mention the business names).

Sorry folks we didn’t make enough turkey clubs to make a profit.


Why?  Probably many reasons but unless the building was located on an ancient burial site or something, I think it is safe to assume that a major factor was a lack of customers!

So this got me thinking.  

What could these folks have done differently, or in addition to, to succeed in opening a profitable Deli? 

Hmm…  So let’s see what we can come up with.  


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First, let’s assume the following about these new business ventures:

** There is a business plan in place.  After all, it takes some time to build a following.

** A marketing plan is in place.  Taking the time to consider, among other things, who an ideal customer might be – corporate lunch crowd, senior citizens, college kids?

** Personal goals are tied in to the business.  In other words, when the sun sets do you want to be the guy (or gal) who runs a Deli,  and that’s fine if you do, or do you want to be the business owner and have others running the operation for you.


Next, we have to sprinkle in a few of what I like to call No Brainers.

These include offering great tasting food, maintaining a clean environment, along with an inviting atmosphere (attitude goes along way here), and having a good visible location.  Otherwise, there is no shot for success.  Although even a ‘not so terrific’ spot can be overcome with great food and great service.

I know a very good Chinese food take out spot that is literally behind a multi-family house and a Rite Aid drug store – you can’t even see it from the road!  Yet, everyone in the neighborhood knows that’s the place for good Chinese food!!

So assuming all the groundwork is in place you are then ready to hang the sign on the front door – Open for Business.


As with any new business there will be some start-up Challenges because, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not quite as easy as the – build it and they will come – mantra.  It’s not just an announcement to the world, a sign on the store, and the customers come running in ready to spend dollars.

One of the challenges, in the beginning is to get the customers in the door in the first place!  You have to give customers a reason to come inside.  So don’t just do the regular boring marketing to attract new customers; you need to think ‘outside the box’ and get creative.

Sorry, but other than Fred and Martha who live in the neighborhood and might be curious to try a new eatery, who is coming in to try a brand new Deli?  That’s right – hardly anyone, unless there is a very good reason.

It’s my lunch hour, I’m hungry.  If I try a new spot there is a chance it may suck. I’ll go to a place that I already know has the food I enjoy.  

That’s the reality facing a brand new food shop.


Fast forward a few weeks.  You are getting some bites.  Customers are coming in.  Nicely done.  You are in business.  Quite a feeling of accomplishment wouldn’t you say?

Okay, now is the time when you really, and I mean really, need to focus on what I refer to as the WOW Factor.  

You want to leave a lasting impression on every single patron that comes inside your Deli.  And, that is – WOW, this food is delicious and the service is great, there is a good vibe in here, I plan on coming back soon!

However, what happens, more often than not, is this – yawn, the food was OK (wish my sandwich had a little more meat on it) and I had to wait in line for longer than I planned. Then the Deli owner starts to wonder why there are so few customers.

It’s not rocket science, but if you ‘WOW’ your customers of course they turn into faithful patrons.  Otherwise you are just one ho-hum experience away from losing a customer to a competitor.

For example, I have regular ‘get togethers’ on the weekend with a few business colleagues and we usually grab a bit to eat.  Where do we go?  Five Guys Burgers and Fries.  


They wowed me the very first time and I didn’t even go inside, my friend got a to-go order!!  The Burgers were huge and delicious and we got an entire bag of French Fries.   I think I literally said “wow” out loud.  The fries were actually almost too much for me to finish and that never happens!  I was impressed and I was hooked.

So when a new burger joint opened up in the next town over (sorry Jake’s), I basically said who cares because it could never be better than Five Guys.

When you focus on the WOW Factor good things happen.  Your current customers will take care of 75% of your marketing efforts for you through word of mouth advertising.  They tell all their friends about their great experience.  Oh, and by the way, it’s free!

That’s when you have made a name for yourself.  That, along with the ‘Best Deli in XYZ County’ award.  

That’s what you want.  Momentum, repeat business, staying power, and growth potential.  Then my business owner friend you are on your way to success.  


So assuming we are collectively on the same page now and if I could spin around the earth and turn back time similar to how Superman does it, I would reach out to these new business owners, congratulate them, and offer these helpful insights to market and grow their business.



Marketing Ideas to Increase Sales

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Practical Business Advice  



A baker’s dozen – 13 Ideas that will create a Buzz about your Bizz and help your deli (restaurant) succeed.


1.  Think like a Customer

Turn the tables.  You know you have great food, but your customers are not yet aware of that.  So, you need to think like they do.

“Do I try this new place, spend my hard earned money and then what if the food, well… sucks?  I mean maybe they serve the sandwiches with pickles and the disgusting pickle juice makes the bread soggy.”

Or, I can go to my trusted burger joint where they know my name and the food is excellent.

This typical situation is a real barrier to folks initially coming in to your place because all the risk is on the customer.

So in the beginning, you need to give folks a reason, an incentive, to come inside!

If you are confident in your great tasting food and awesome service, then all you need to do is get folks in the door – any way possible.  So, if that means giving away some free food every now and then – so be it.

I’ll take a tuna on whole wheat.  Thanks.    


2.  Pre-launch Marketing

In the weeks leading up to the grand opening you want to create some anticipation, chatter, and excitement.  A good way to do this is to send out flyers, or postcards, to the surrounding businesses introducing your soon to be awesome Deli.

Or, perhaps send out greeting card or postcard mailings to a particular zip code in the area with an invitation that says something such as – come in and try us out during our first 2 weeks and get a second sandwich free when you order one, but remember it’s only for two weeks so come on down, we are sure you will like us!

There’s an incentive for two, not just Joe Customer on his own, potential new patrons to visit your new Deli.  Joe receives the postcard and invites a friend for lunch because it’s a ‘two for one’ offer.  

With an enticement such as that, who wouldn’t come in to check out your new business?


3.  Special Offers, Coupons, Drawings, Contests & Bonuses 

Let’s face it.  You want your business to stand out from the others.  Good food and quality service will keep them coming back.  Going the ‘extra mile’ will help to create a loyal following.  So sprinkle in a little creativity.



** Free coffee on the first and third Mondays of the month.  (Go ahead, run your numbers – what does it cost you to do this, and then consider what you GAIN in return)

** Free lunch on your birthday, yes really, and %50 off your friend’s bill that same day.

** Drop your business card in for a chance to win a free breakfast or lunch in a random drawing.  Yes, everyone does this and so should you!   Take it a step further.  The winner gets to be featured in store (a counter top promo set up maybe) or in a feature ad on your website.

** Leave a ‘try us out’ coupon at the neighboring businesses, and offer to put their business cards or flyers in your store.  Call it Cross Marketing.  You win, they win.

** Have a contest.  No, really, hold a contest.  Okay Grandma you think your soup is better than ours?  Prove it.  Come on in folks and you be the judges for our “Best Soup in Town” contest.  Soups, muffins, cakes – the list goes on and on.  Maybe you can have a contest every other month and give folks something to look forward to.   You create a positive vibe about your business so it’s more than just a spot where people go when they are hungry.

** Have the guts to empower your employees and allow them to use their own judgment in a given situation.

For example, give them the freedom to offer one bonus during their shift, used at their discretion.  So maybe when Andrea, your star employee, notices that it took a little longer than usual today for ‘Miss Regular Customer’ to get her lunch order (the place was packed!) she decides to use her bonus.

She tells the customer, “I know you come in 3 days a week and this time you had to wait in line for a while, lunch is on the house this time.  Oh, and if you want to just call it in next time and we will have your lunch ready and waiting for you!”

Wow, wow… wow!  Now you know you just gained a customer for life!  So, those are just a few ideas; I am sure you and your team can think up more.  


4.  Your Week ~ Your Way Themes

The idea here is to have a few different themes that tie into the typical flow of the 7-day week.  Also, plug in to the local vibe in your area.  Is it a college town where everyone bleeds Ohio State red?  A top notch high school with a big game coming up?  Perhaps there is a gigantic employer in town with a hungry workforce.

Develop promotions and themes that cater to events in your area, this way you are connecting within the neighborhood.


For example:

“Yes, it’s Monday morning (already) so to help get you started get a free coffee with any breakfast sandwich order.”

“You made it through the work week and it’s finally ‘TGIF’ Friday so with any lunch order today between 11:30 – 2:00 your drink is on the house.”

I know these are small details.  Even so, once the word gets out around town you will be amazed at how many times the cash register rings up a sale.  

“Make us a part of your Sunday morning routine.  Grab a free newspaper (while they last) when your breakfast order totals at least $10.00.”

“Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons are dedicated to ‘Moms’ – leave the baby with the sitter – come on in and relax for a few hours.  We have 2 tables set aside especially for you!  Socialize, bring your laptop, bring your needlework, read a steamy romance novel, or just relax with friends and catch up on some gossip.”

You want to make people feel special.  You want the customer to come back again and again.


5.  Walking Billboards

You want, and need, to get your business name out into the community.  One easy way to do this is to hire a ‘newbie’ graphic designer to whip up a neat tee shirt design featuring your Deli.  Then print up about 20-30 tee shirts.  You can sell these in store, or give them away free after a certain number of lunch orders.  This will drum up some simple, but effective, advertising for your new business.

I know – you watch every penny when building a business.

The key here is to hire a new and eager graphic designer so they don’t charge you an ‘arm and a leg’ like the large ad agencies do.


6.  Marketing that Matters

Make a difference.  Do what works.  Do not do what everyone else does.

Now I don’t mean to sound like Yoda, but it really is that simple.

Sure you can place an ad in the newspaper (these days your newspaper may only be Online!) or a local magazine introducing your company, but doing so will not necessarily bring in new customers.  That’s usually what everyone else does.  Place a local print ad then sit back and cross their fingers.

You need to think outside the box here.

This is one of my favorite ideas:  Offer to put up paintings (or pictures) from local artists on the walls to decorate your Deli.  This creates a positive vibe and a connection with the neighborhood.  Heck, you can feature a different artist every month.  Or, have a contest and ask your customers to vote on which art pieces they like best.

With your growing popularity you will find that a number of opportunities will appear. For example, the buzz about your bizz attracts other artists and then they will also want to be featured in your store.  Before long you have a waiting list, and you can even charge a marketing fee at this point if you choose.

Doors open.  Business opportunities appear.  Multiple streams of income?

You are not just a place where folks go to grab a bite to eat.  You are part of the community.

Now that’s cool.  Very cool.

That’s marketing that matters.


7.  Roots that go Deep

Now if you really want to put down some roots that go deep and cement your presence in the neighborhood sponsor a local club or a maybe a youth sports team.

Sure why not?  Go out on a limb and sponsor a team.  You plan on being a success in the near future so go ahead.  It’s not… well let’s see how the business goes and then maybe I can be a sponsor.  No, no, no… if that’s your thought process you’re probably doomed anyway.

In addition to sponsoring a team, a great way to get involved is to host post-game little league baseball events.  So everyone knows that after the games, win or lose, your Deli is the place to be for good food and fun times.

I remember when I was a kid the place to go after the baseball games was always the Carvel ice cream store or Friendly’s restaurant.  Fudge Swirl is still my favorite ice cream flavor!


Another way to solidify your status in the neighborhood is to support, or raise awareness for, a good cause.  You can take the lead efforts in raising money for local charitable causes in the area.

Good food, good people, and yes, even good neighbor (sorry State Farm).  That’s how folks will eventually describe your business.  Then your business roots are strong.  You have staying power for years to come.

Maybe it’s time to open another location?   


8.  Ride the Social Media Wave

These days, whether it’s through Twitter or Facebook you can engage your potential customers like never before.  You can see where they socialize, where they shop, and what they talk about.  You can essentially ‘listen in’ on what is happening in your area.   From a marketing standpoint for your business, that’s worth its weight in gold.

You can connect with folks in your local area and share anything of mutual interest. Chat up your great recipes, or homemade soups, or your customer rewards program, anything at all.  A great way to engage your market is to monitor trends, such as disgruntled customers, and then offer solutions to any problems you notice.

In general, people like to share.  They will talk about a good experience, but a certain fervor ignites after an unpleasant happening and folks will share that with practically everybody.  Maybe it’s the emotion that kicks in when dealing with a bad event, who knows, but they do tell all their friends about it!  So perhaps there is a way for you to capitalize on this situation.


Say, for instance, that Miss Amy tweets about how her favorite Deli seems to be ‘dropping the ball’ recently.  Her normal lunch time soup and 1/2 sandwich isn’t quite as delicious as she recalls, and to top it off, the soup is never as hot as she likes it to be (she likes it ‘lawsuit’ hot).

Now, let’s say you own a brand new sandwich shop in town, somewhat similar to a Liquid Lunch (specializing in soups – cool name – right?).  Using social media you are following the local trends, you are paying attention and you notice when there is an unhappy customer venting about a bad experience.  Now, there is your chance to impress a future customer.

You contact Miss Amy, using Twitter in our example, and say something such as, “Sorry to hear about xyz … come and try us for lunch next time.  I’ll personally make your sandwich with TLC, and you can try our scalding hot Chicken Orzo soup for free!”

Wow.  Now one thing we know for sure.

She is coming in to try this new sandwich shop because you reached out, engaged her, and impressed her.  And, she is telling all her friends and co-workers about this too!


In short, show that you care.  Get involved.  Engage people.  Talk to your future customers.  Social Media is here to stay so you may as well get on board.

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Okay.  Take a break.  Stand up and stretch. 

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Once upon a time, many moons ago, one of my first jobs was in the restaurant business. No, not a fast food joint, but a real spatula and grill restaurant.  Yep, I started as a bus boy clearing tables.  Worked my way up to shift supervisor, and along the way, I did every job in between.

I learned a lot about how to deal with different types of people – management, co-workers, and customers.  I was like a sponge – soaking up as much information as possible about how to, and how not to, treat customers.  I actually enjoyed my time there, not to mention that the food was free!

Sigh… the good ole’ days.  


The next five suggestions offer practical, common sense, business advice to improve customer service.  This, along with great food, will put your business head and shoulders above the competition.  That’s what you want; set yourself apart from the other Deli sandwich shops in town.

Little things DO matter.


9.  Pay Attention

Listen up.  Seriously.  Pay attention to every little detail concerning your store.  Also, pay attention to every single customer that comes in to your store.  Treat every single one of them as if he or she is the Queen of England.  If royalty was coming in for a visit you would certainly make sure everything in the Deli was in tip top shape.  So, keep it that way – all the time.  Super clean, inviting, and comfortable.

Whether it’s a customer waiting in line, a customer inadvertently spilling something, or a customer looking for an employee to ask a question – train your folks to be aware, and respond.  You are in business to serve your customers.  Cater to them.  Folks will remember and appreciate this.  Keep them coming back.

Need an example?  Glad you asked.

I remember a time when I was working at the restaurant in the late afternoon.  Just as a Mom and her two young kids were about to leave, a Summer thunderstorm rolled in.  It was pouring buckets of rain and I could tell she didn’t have an umbrella as she made the “oh sugar” facial expression.

I dashed into the coat room, grabbed our gigantic umbrella (it really is quite huge!) and walked them out to their vehicle.  Safe and sound and DRY in their car.  She must have thanked me 3 or 4 times.  She was impressed.

For about two weeks though, my co-workers referred to me as the ‘brella boy.’  But, I think it was worth it.


Want to set yourself apart from the crowd and impress your patrons?  Pay attention to everything and try to be prepared for anything.


10.  Do not step over nickels to pick up pennies

In other words, do not ‘nickel and dime’ people.  It’s not worth it.  You will lose customers.  Guaranteed.

“May I have a cup of ice to go please?”  Sure but we will have to charge you for the cup.  What?

Back in the day, my good friend Billy and I would often go to a local diner late at night for a bacon & egg sandwich and home fries.  We would usually order the same food each time, so after a while we knew the total cost and we had the exact change.

So one time we got the order to go, tipped the waitress, walked to the register and ‘boom’ – the bill is higher than usual.  Not by a lot, but it’s more than we usually pay.

“I have to charge you extra for the to-go containers.”  Wait.  What?

Now he (the owner) doesn’t really have to charge extra.  He chooses to.  It’s his prerogative.  Billy said, “We come in here all the time and now you are going to ‘nickel and dime’ us?”

I didn’t say anything but I did try to put on my mean face.

I know it’s just a few bucks, but it was the principle of the situation that ticked us both off.  That, and the the guy at the register was such a jerk about.  Not to mention that recently my bacon & egg sandwich was never quite cooked long enough for me.

I like it burn … um – literally >>>

I did say well done!


So we stopped going to this diner.  They lost two good patrons.  And that’s the point.  In fact, we slapped a lifetime ban on this place (usually we just do a 3-6 month ban, but that is a story for another time).


The lesson here is – don’t short change your customers to gain a few penny profits.  You will lose more by irritating your customers more than you would ever gain on your accounting ledger by adding up those pennies.


11.  Remember as if you are an Elephant

Master this one simple talent and impress your customers every time.  When you are really good at what you do people notice.  Start up small conversations with your patrons, get to know them.  Remember what they order, or how they prefer their food prepared, or a detail from a previous conversation.  Little things matter.  This shows you care.

Anyone can do this; it just takes some practice.  Find out a few details about your customers.  Heck write it down if you have to, make little notations about various folks so you can chit-chat the next time they come in.  It works.  Try it.

For example, Cassandra, who is just flat out awesome, remembered that I despise cheese on my sandwiches (sorry cheese lovers).  And that was only after one visit!  When Billy and I came in again she recalled our names (very cool) and no cheese for Jimbo.

Good food.  Great service. So why are we going anywhere else for lunch?  


Remember small details and impress your clientele.  Repeat business makes your cash register ring.


12.  VIP Customers   

Sure you treat all of your patrons special, but the repeat customers you treat as if they are gold – because they are.  These folks are VIPs.  Very Important Person.

These customers are worth doing a little bit more for because they are worth it.  The VIPs are special.  The bottom line is that they bring in sales for your business.

Case in point.  Back in the day, at the restaurant where I worked, there was a guy who would come in every week day for lunch.  I mean every single day.  Same exact order every time.  Two grilled chicken sandwiches, light mayo, lettuce, tomato, buns not toasted, take out order (funny what sticks in your memory years later!).  So one day as I am ringing up his order he realizes that his wallet is back at the office in his desk.  He has no cash.

I said, “Don’t worry about it.  We appreciate your business.  We can settle it tomorrow.”

Simple.  Right?

Did I make a big fuss about it?  No.  Did I worry about the cash drawer being short later? Nope.  Did I embarrass him at the checkout line because he forgot his wallet?  I did not. This guy was a VIP.  And, I could tell that he really appreciated the fact that I said he can just catch up the next day.

You treat the repeat customers with extra TLC.


How many of your current customers would you classify as a VIP?  If the answer is not many, perhaps you should ‘roll out the red carpet’ for more of your regular customers.


13.  Comfy, cozy, and F R E E  

Sometimes the obvious is not so, well… obvious.  Your Deli should be clean and comfortable on the inside and inviting from the outside.  Make people feel welcome and acknowledge them when they walk in the door.

Do you have a sit down area with tables and chairs?  Good.  Are the chairs comfy and cozy?  I mean have YOU sat in them for 20-30 mins to know what that feels like?  After all, you don’t want the ‘hard as a petrified tree trunk’ seats that are found in most fast food joints.

Encourage folks to stay a while.  If at all possible, put a big screen TV on the wall and offer free Wifi as well.  Many spots offer free Wifi these days, even McDonalds, so it would be in your best interests if you have it as well.  I know many older folks who have free time during the day who go specifically to a cafe’ because of the free Wifi.

Another good idea is to put up a community bulletin board inside the store so folks can post ads or flyers about happenings in the neighborhood.

I’m sure you get the big picture by now; before too long your brand new Deli will become the hot spot in town.  The place to be for good food and awesome service.  


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In summary, keep in mind that you are not in the business of just serving food, you are in the business of building friendships and relationships via your delicious recipes and great service.

Adopt that philosophy and I can practically guarantee that you will have a successful business.  Otherwise your good intentions might just put your business at risk.  Risk of going OUT of business.

Just ask the two Delis that died.


One thing I do know for sure, if the next business that opens in that spot is a new Delicatessen, I am absolutely going to offer some creative business consulting.  No charge at all!

Stay tuned for an update.


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So is there a Deli that is getting it done?

Good Food, Great Service, & Good neighbor?


Yep there sure is.  Glad you asked.  Bring your appetite.  

For a great example visit >>> Sweet Mustard Sandwich Shop in Stratford, CT.

My good friend Billy and I refer to it as Street Mustard.  Heck, we have nicknames for everything, but that is a story for a different day.



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That’s the scoop.  Let me know how I can help you.