How to make the most of deli sandwich sales

11 March 2024, 07:00 AM
  • An excellent sandwich offering can make your deli stand out from the crowd. Speciality Food discovers tips and tricks from the experts
How to make the most of deli sandwich sales

The deli counter is at the heart of many fine food retail shops. A place where customers can go to sample products, seek advice and buy a freshly made bite to eat.

From a sarnie of fresh meats and cheeses stacked between two soft slices of quality bread, to the rich flavours of a crispy toasty or even a warm bagel, filled to the brim with smoked salmon, there are countless variations on the classic deli sandwich. 

If you’re looking to bring sandwiches to your deli or up your game in this field, establishing your offering with creative combinations or classics done to perfection could be just what your shop needs.

What do you need to make great deli sandwiches?

First things first, if you’re new to professional sandwich-making you’ll need to source your ingredients. Whether you’re taking inspiration from the products your shop already sells or venturing to new suppliers, David Josephs, owner of Panzer’s Deli, says undertaking thorough research on your suppliers is key to getting the best ingredients “not only for their product but for their story, sustainability and ethos.” Finding suppliers you can proudly champion will translate to a fantastic end product that customers can get behind.

Once you’ve sourced your ingredients, he says the next step is to ensure everything used in your sandwiches is freshly sliced, as this is what really sets deli sandwiches apart from the limp meal deal offerings of major supermarkets. “Deli sandwiches always taste better because the cheeses and meats are freshly sliced just before being added to your sandwich, free of preservatives. It’s just not the same from a grocery store packet,” David says. 

Quality is key with every ingredient. “Right down to the type of flour used to mill your bread, you can simply taste the difference with high-quality ingredients,” David says. “The taste is not only better, but by using the best ingredients, you are also supporting companies full of passion, craft, tradition and quality. These days that really matters.”

For Panzer’s, top-selling sandwiches include a toasted everything bagel with housemade cream cheese and thinly sliced smoked salmon, cracked pepper and a squeeze of lemon; a salt beef sandwich, sliced not too thickly with crunchy pickles and lots of hot mustard on rye bread; and Toasted Dusty Knuckle focaccia filled with provolone and prosciutto, house pesto, red onion and fresh salad greens from the greengrocers.

When constructing your sandwiches, carefully consider the ratios of bread, fillings, salads, condiments and seasoning, as these can also make or break your finished product. “Each step and sandwich layer is important: Will your bread hold all the ingredients you pack in and does its flavour compliment the fillings? Are the textures in your sandwich right?” David says.

Max Halley, who runs Max’s Sandwich Shop in North London and wrote Max’s World of Sandwiches: A Guide to Amazing Sandwiches, agrees. “Balance is key,” he says. “If there’s something sweet, make sure there’s something sour. If everything’s soft, make sure there’s something crunchy. And I don’t mean lettuce when I talk about crunchy. Lettuce isn’t crunchy, it’s fresh. Crisps (for example) are crunchy,” he says.

His shop sells a range of creative sandwich combinations, including the popular Ham, Egg ‘N’ Chips, with slow-cooked ham hock, fried egg, piccalilli, shoestring fries, malt vinegar and mayo, and the Korean Gangster, with soy and vinegar braised goat, kimchi kraut, two types of deep-fried noodles, baby gem and parsley, ssamjang and gravy mayo.

As well as buying fantastic ingredients and choosing the right bread, he says sandwich makers should “use way more mayonnaise than you think you should”.

Expert sandwich tips

While many aspects of the perfect sandwich come down to personal preference – Max, for example, says he believes sun-dried tomatoes are an “abomination” – others are a result of sandwich construction and experience.

For Panzer’s Deli, the key details to get right are creating a balanced sandwich packed full of flavour and choosing the right bread for the right fillings. David adds that a few simple secret ingredients for success are “salt and pepper, micro greens or a squeeze of lemon”. Aside from that, it’s all about using top quality ingredients, loving what you serve and “testing, testing, testing!” he says.

On the other hand, sandwich characteristics that Panzer’s Deli likes to avoid, he says, are “Bread so hard you can’t bite into it, or sandwiches so overstuffed they are difficult to eat. This is a current trend we have mixed feelings about.” Indeed, while huge sandwich stacks are particularly popular on social media, where they stand out as eye-catching feats of engineering, they’re not the most practical when it actually comes time to eat said sandwich, not to mention the challenge they create for balancing flavours and textures.

Max adds that cold slabs of cheese should be avoided in deli sandwiches. “It’s awful, waxy, horrible.”

For those who are just starting out, Max advises working with someone who can become a mentor to help you learn the ropes, by working in or even running someone else’s deli for at least two years before setting out on your own.

Sandwich alternatives

As well as experimenting with fillings and flavours, many sandwich masterminds like to try alternative formats, such as bagels, toasties or paninis.

Fork Deli in Suffolk bakes its own bagels to use as a sandwich base. “Our bagels are made fresh every day using a starter, not yeast, as you would for sourdough,” explains owner Justin Kett. “The process involves double proving for 12 plus 12 hours before rolling them and making the iconic hole in the middle. The bagels are then boiled, baked and filled.”

The shop’s popular bagel fillings are changed daily to keep options fresh for customers. “Our customer favourites are pastrami and pickle, and smoked salmon and cream cheese. The key to any filling is to keep the flavours natural and ensure the bagels look amazing.” Their seasonal bagel for March is pulled lamb with pistachios and wild garlic. With bagels, he stresses, “Fresh is always best!”

The deli also sells toasties, and the flavours change daily. “We like to mix things up a little. Our current flavours include pork cheek and chilli jam; steak and onion marmalade; and our honey roast ham and mustard.” With toasties, Justin advises buttering the bread on the outside for added crunch. “And don’t be shy with the cheese!”

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