Food enthusiasts have an insatiable hunger for delicious sandwiches that shows no signs of slowing down. A recent Sandwich Consumer Trend Report by Technomic even found that consumers eat at least one sandwich a week.
One way deli owners can boost their business is by tapping into the premium sandwich market and offering high-quality ingredients. As the Fast Casual team explains, there’s a growing demand for artisan and handcrafted sandwiches, especially in the US.
This is partially explained by an improving economy after the global recession of 2008-2009. With the per capita disposable income rising, so has the desire for premium food products.
This is great news for deli owners. By focusing on premium food products, you can begin to offer upmarket sandwiches that boost your margins, and ultimately your bottom line. Here’s how to do just that.
Introducing Premium Sandwiches to Your Menu
Veteran restaurateurs know to be cautious with menu overhauls. If the menu changes are too drastic, you risk alienating the long-term customers who have been coming to your deli for years.
Ideally, you would keep your core items — the proven winners — in place and experiment with new premium options. There’s likely to be some level of trial and error involved. A good way to test the waters is to come up with a few new ideas and test those out.
This type of experimentation is something Caleb Pershan talks about at Eater San Francisco, where he writes about the owner of a popular sandwich shop, Adam Mesnick. Pershan notes that Mesnick’s menu is in a perpetual state of evolution because he constantly experiments with different items. In fact, he’s had 200 different menus to date.
This kind of curiosity and willingness to experiment can ultimately pave the way for success. Making small tweaks along the way should help you find a nice balance between keeping your regulars happy and give your more adventurous, premium food-seeking customers what they’re looking for as well.
If something works, you can make it a permanent addition to your menu. If it bombs, scratch the recipe and move on.
Determining Your Customers’ Demand for Upmarket Menu Items
Listen to your customers as you make changes. Regardless of whether they offer positive or negative feedback, any input will provide you with useful insights.
Knowledgeowl’s Marybeth Alexander mentions that this has been a big part of the success of Zingerman’s Deli — a sandwich hotspot in Ann Arbor, Michigan (which we featured in our big list of America’s most authentic delis). Alexander says the core of Zingerman’s service model includes finding out what the customer wants and getting it for them accurately, politely and enthusiastically.
Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s easy to lose sight of customer needs when undertaking something as big as a menu overhaul. When it comes to determining just how much exists among your customers for upmarket offerings, you’ll want to do it in two stages.
First, it’s nice to ask your regulars straight up how they would feel about having premium sandwiches added to the menu. You can gain a lot of valuable information by simply listening to your customers in these conversations.
Second, you’ll want to offer customers surveys in which they have the chance to provide you with unfiltered feedback after you’ve actually added the new premium items to your menu. Shelley Frost at the Houston Chronicle recommends leaving a stack of comment cards so customers can provide their feedback discretely and conveniently.
Doing so should help you get a feel for how receptive people are initially and how successful the changes have been post-implementation. You’re also likely to get some ideas for subtle tweaks that you can make.
Pricing Your Sandwiches
Pamela DeLoatch at FoodDive reports that Americans are dining out now more than ever. What’s more, we know from our own research that diners — especially younger diners — are willing to pay a premium for high-quality foods.
But how do you know what kind of premium price is fair?
The Restaurant Owner & Manager team suggests using the competition pricing method, where you price slightly higher than your competitors in an effort to peel off their higher-end clientele. For instance, if you find that your competitors are charging $8.00 for a Reuben, there might be room in the market for a $9.00 Reuben made with a better cut of pastrami.
Remember that you’ll likely be spending more on these ingredients. As the Buzztime Business team explains, calculating your food costs is vital for increasing your profit margins. And because of fluctuating wholesale food prices, these calculations are something you’ll want to do at least once a month (if not more frequently).
What Specific Premium Sandwiches Are People Looking For?
Ashley Lutz writes about some of the most popular sandwiches in American at Business Insider. As you might imagine, her list contains some of your usual suspects: turkey, ham, chicken, roast beef and pastrami.
As for favorite sandwich fillings, Mona Chalabi outlines some in FiveThirtyEight. These include lettuce, mayo, tomato, mustard and ketchup. Again, the usual suspects at a deli counter. This means you might not have to completely overhaul your wholesale orders. Rather, you might simply need to swap out some staples for higher-quality ingredients.
Also, be sure to emphasize freshness of your ingredients. This can be a huge selling point. Gordon Food Service mentions that freshness is especially important when catering to younger customers — 84 percent of millennials cite freshness as being what most heavily influences their food purchases.
If you’re looking for ideas for potential premium sandwiches that you can work into your menu, there are a few good resources.
- One is the list of the best sandwiches the Saveur team has ever made. Here, you’ll find everything from porchetta with marinated onions and salsa verde to braaibroodjie, the South African version of grilled cheese.
- Another is the list of 29 sandwich recipes from Maggie Puniewska at The Greatest. Some of her picks include the tempeh Reuben and the tuna melt.
- Finally, Cathy Jacobs breaks down 15 epic cold sandwiches at The Spruce Eats, which is ideal if you’re looking to create something interesting but still keep it relatively simple.
The Bottom Line: Increase Profits By Investing in Quality
Upmarket dining has experienced a significant surge in popularity in recent years, and now we’re seeing that many customers are willing to pay more for premium sandwiches.
By giving your customers want they want and rolling out those new menu items thoughtfully, you should be able to make this transition a smooth one and give yourself an edge over competitors.