On the Line / Menu + Food / How to Spread Some Excitement into Your New Deli Menu Ideas

How to Spread Some Excitement into Your New Deli Menu Ideas

Looking to create or refresh your cafe menu? Check out these tips and examples to bring your ideas to life.

Menu Engineering Worksheet
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Menu Engineering Worksheet

Use this menu engineering worksheet, complete with intricate menu engineering formulas, to determine areas of strength and weakness in your restaurant's menu.

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DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

Coming up with new deli menu ideas may seem easy at first — all you have to do is pick anything and slap it between two pieces of bread, right?

If only it were that simple. Developing new ideas for your deli menu takes careful thought and consideration. As a deli operator, you must balance traditional staples with original ideas. You also have to make sure all your ideas are both popular and profitable.

There’s no perfect answer to the deli menu equation. Meeting customer expectations while satisfying your business needs is easier said than done. But, don’t worry - we’ve put together a solid list of ideas to help you get the most out of your new deli menu.

Engineer your deli menu to balance popularity with profitability

The goal with deli menu curation is to come up with ideas that give the people what they want while also boosting your bottom line.

There are a few items everyone expects you to have on your deli menu. Sandwiches are a must. Soups and salads are expected. Once you check those essential boxes, the world is your oyster.

We’re talking entrees, classic and innovative sides, baked goods, drinks, and beyond. And, be sure not to sleep on how much fun you can have with sandwiches and salad ideas. There are so many combinations to make using local and seasonal ingredients, not to mention all the unique cuisines you can draw inspiration from.

Here are 3 ideas to help you strike a balance while injecting fun and creativity into your deli menu items:

1. Master the basics

It’s safe to say most of your first-time customers are in pursuit of a sandwich or another deli staple. While you most certainly want to add your flair to the menu, your deli needs to be rooted in sound sandwich making. There will always be those customers who request simple staples, like pastrami on rye or an egg salad sandwich.

To guarantee sandwich success, make sure you’ve locked in your process. Remember, meat, cheese, veg, and sauces need to harmonize in flavor, no matter how classic or unique the sandwich is. Then, there’s the conversation about bread. Heftier sandwiches might require heartier bread. Finally, have discipline in stacking ingredients. Customers don’t want their sandwiches spilling onto their laps or plates after the first bite.

All these details go for your staples and your creations. If you want to serve a funky fresh take on potato salad, it’s probably best if you can make a classic first.

Restaurant Cost Control Guide
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Restaurant Cost Control Guide

Use this guide to learn more about your restaurant costs, how to track them, and steps you can take to help maximize your profitability.

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2. Look at modifiers and add-ons

Even though you’ve crafted your menu items to perfection, don’t overlook offering modifiers and add-ons (at an up charge.)

Extra cheese, meats, and produce may help push your margins up a bit — this is especially true for condiments like extra sauces and pickles. These are typically low food cost, high-margin items that are in popular demand.

It’s important to strike a certain balance with your sandwich customization. You don’t want to be known as that one deli that hikes up prices on small add-ons. One way to counter this is by checking out the modifier costs of delis in your areas and pricing your add-ons in a competitive range.

3. Calculate your costs

All your deli menu ideas — new and old — must contribute to your target profitability. To track and achieve the profitability you seek, you have to control your costs. 

Successful restaurant cost control requires a strong data foundation and systems that make it easy to consistently calculate your costs. For food costs, invoice processing automation provides an excellent foundation. Restaurant-specific employee payroll systems offer the same foundation, except for labor costs. 

Systems like these help you to track your costs, enabling you to spot trends and make adjustments to recipes, ingredients, portions, labor, and prices. But, again, there has to be a balance here. 

Too much focus on profitability could leave you with the highest prices (and worse, most boring menu) in town. This is where you can get creative with your new deli menu ideas, finding ways to offer things customers love at a price that appeals to your profits.

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Effective deli menu examples 

Grab and go for the win!

Many deli menu items are unique in their ability to be prepared in advance. You can use this to your best advantage by pre-packing to-go versions of your top-selling items. This will help keep your lines moving while allowing customers to rest easy knowing they can get in and out of your deli quickly. Your grab-and-go options may also be a low-risk opportunity to test out some new menu ideas.






One perfect example is Joe’s Deli in Buffalo, NY. They keep tons of tasty grab-and-go options stocked in their coolers.


Layer up your business with deli trays and other catering options

If you have enough space to make salads and sandwiches, you can offer catering options. Catering can be a great way to get more profits out of your food if you properly structure your strategy. Once you know quantities and price, you can work to achieve a targeted profit margin by controlling your catering costs.

Another perk about catering is its marketing potential. For every catering order, you’re reaching numerous potential customers. So, if your deli has amazing catering options, it can only boost business for your deli, across the board.






Luca’s Gourmet Deli & Catering in New Jersey balances a dine-in deli experience with full service catering as well. 

Breakfast deserves a spot on your menu

It’s easy to see “deli” and only think about lunch items. That doesn’t have to be the case. Don’t lock yourself in lunch-only deli jail — there’s a whole delicious, popular, and profitable world of breakfast waiting to be part of your menu. Just make sure to check out your competition before you list brand new hours and menus for a breakfast crowd.






Leven Deli Co in Denver, CO doesn’t just blend breakfast into deli operation — they do happy hours, catering, and a retail market.


Get outside the breads and spreads

There’s nothing wrong with good breads and spreads. But, to be successful, you can’t be afraid to expand your menu beyond them.

A great way to do this is by taking some local and regional inspiration. By testing a few appetizers and entrees as specials, you can gauge customers’ interest in new menu items while also giving folks a new reason to eat at your deli.







Redbud Deli in Morristown, TN features an entree list that includes multiple grits dishes, meatloaf, and their “Carolina pork pile” pictured above.


Refine the classics

Innovations are great. Your funky flavor and ingredient twists deserve a spot on your deli menu — and so do deli classics that everyone loves and expects. Make sure you pursue a balance on your menu. Cool new deli menu items shouldn’t overshadow the classics. And, if you’re doing the classics, make sure you’re doing them well.







The menu at Murray’s Deli in Midland, TX is a great example of hitting the classics hard while also adding some local and personal flare.

Sandwich your new deli menu ideas with popularity and profitability

Whether you’re a brand new deli operation sourcing ideas for your first menu, or a long-time deli business just looking to jazz things up, the possibilities are endless. Just be sure you approach your menu with diligence and intentionality, striking a successful balance between popularity and profitability. That way, you, your employees, and your customers all win!

With these tips and examples for deli menu ideas, we’re sure you can create your new and exciting deli menu.

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