Opening a Deli

Posted: 18th November 2015

How to open a DeliSurvey:

Enthusiasm is a vital part of starting a business, it’s what makes everything happen but don’t let it get in the way of clear thinking. Just because you think it is great doesn’t mean everybody else will. Try to look at your village or town through the eyes of your potential customer; what is missing? What frustrates them? What are you offering that the local supermarket isn’t? What do they drive miles to buy? What would make their life easier? Try setting up a Survey Monkey questionnaire (very easy and free Ask your friends and family to complete it.  Set up a Twitter account and set it free in the social media world or see if the local paper or Parish Magazine will feature the link – the more information you can get the better chance you have of understanding your customers and not making a costly mistake.


On the day your deli opens you need to have all your ducks (or cheeses) in a row – that means having lots of local, different and quality products, all beautifully presented all ready for sale as the customers flood in. People are increasingly concerned about the providence of their food; they are keen to support local and artisan producers and are willing to pay a premium, but the quality has to be top notch, and the product unique and consistently available.

It’s never too early to start looking for suppliers and making relationships with them, they are just as important as your customers. You will need to love their food enough to enthusiastically sell it and trust them to deliver a quality product.

Travel around all the food fairs and farmers markets in your region and do some mystery shopping; which stalls are busiest? Which food and packaging looks most appealing? Is the product priced well? How enthusiastic are the sellers about their food? Pick the best and start to build a rapport, this is not like buying food from a wholesaler your success relies on good supply, so nurture the relationship. Your suppliers are the start of your network, they are part of your team.

Your suppliers are key to making a profit and you must be prepared to negotiate. For non- perishables (shelf fillers) you may be able to agree sale or return, you might be able to persuade suppliers to run a promotion, or in the early days to keep your start-up costs down (and as you learn what your customers want) you could take less favourable wholesale rate which reduces your profit but gives you more flexibility. Always be fair, agree terms in advance and stick to them.

You’ll also need equipment and utensils and your team of suppliers can also be really useful here; it could cost upwards of £30,000 to fit out a deli (counters, fridges, slicers, coffee machines), anybody in your network who can give you free and impartial advice and point you in the right direction is crucial – just ask!


With any retail outlet you need to look very carefully at footfall; customers will travel to buy special food products but inevitably much of your trade will be spur of the moment; for most shops in a Market Town it is location, location all the way to make the most of passing trade. The delightful thing about a deli is that you can afford to think a little differently; slightly off the High Street may mean you are nearer to parking so customers are tempted to buy more and you are less likely to encounter pavement use regulations so can spread out and use outside displays (especially enticing for seasonal produce and flowers).

If you are based in a rural area think carefully about getting customers to your deli; if you are a long way down a windy road how will your customers find you?  Is the road accessible in all weathers?  Are the premises safe all the time?  What will entice them to your deli?  Think carefully about signage; you can’t just nail a sign to a tree, some signage even needs planning permission – talk to your local council before you select your location.


Any retail food business must comply with food hygiene and health and safety regulations, try to see this as a positive.  The food safety offices are not your enemies, they want to help run a safe and successful business, use their expertise to guide you; your customers will be assured and you will gain new skills.


You need to entice new customers and keep them coming, not so much one off marketing campaigns more building a brand with you at the heart: your passion, your love of local food, your commitment to service and creativity, your desire to give the customer the ultimate food experience, everything you do must convey this to your customer.

The Maya Angelou quote “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” is never more true than in retail; if you make the customer feel special they will keep coming back and keep telling their friends. Make sure you shop is always warm, inviting, exciting and a different experience.  Build brand loyalty with a card (maybe cake or cheese), collect email addresses and let people know when their favourite food is back in stock or send newsletter/recipes/cheats, delivery service or carry to car, website and online ordering, profile your suppliers, organise sample or cooking days, appeal to children, offer a dinner party complete package.

Running a deli is hugely exciting and very fast moving you need enthusiasm and boundless energy. If one promotion doesn’t work don’t spend time fretting, move on to the next: fluffy multi-coloured meringues in crisp brown bags today, homemade biltong and beetroot bread tomorrow.

*** Think about your customer first, second and always

*** Your suppliers are also customers; make friends, forge relationships

*** Don’t go for the obvious location

*** Check with the Town Council for:

               Change of use to a food business


               Pavement use

               Food hygiene/health and safety