The biggest challenge to making a made-to-order program work is making sure everything is ready when the lunch crowd arrives, most deli executives agreed.
E.W. James & Sons, Union City, Tenn.
"And don't make things complicated," he advised. "We've educated our customers to know that our sandwiches are made on our signature sourdough bread, unless they request something else. So our people don't waste time asking what kind of bread they should put the sandwich on," Bruff said.
The retailer "has its ducks in a row," according to Bruff. "We've streamlined preparation so it's quick and consistent."
The company has been merchandising its sandwiches for a few years with glossy color photos in a ring-binder on top of its service case. The back of each photo lists the exact ingredients for each, down to the ounce. "That's for the benefit of the customer and the associate making the sandwich," Bruff said.
It's a good merchandising tool, he added. This year, in addition to the ring binder of photos, the retailer has posted 8-by-10 photos of its best-looking sandwiches on the wall behind the service counter. And a few subs are displayed on an ice bed.
"We've found it works well to tilt the top of a sub open, and overwrap it like that so the customer can see what's in it," Bruff said.
Others commented on the challenge of maintaining consistency and efficient preparation. "We have a formula for each variety of hero that we make sure our associates follow," said William Vitulli, vice president of community and government relations at A&P, Montvale, N.J.
"And you have to have ingredients lined up in the order they go on the sandwich. Subway does an excellent job with that," said Nancy Rand, deli coordinator at Quillin's, La Crosse, Wis.
But having everything set up ahead of time and maintaining a fresh image can present a conflict. To do it right, you must have enough volume, said a deli executive with a West Coast retailer, who asked not to be named.
"It's not so difficult if there's a lot of business," she said. "But if you don't have enough volume, it's difficult to judge how much lettuce and onions and tomatoes to cut ahead of time."
To keep the lunch line moving, it's necessary to have trays of sandwich ingredients ready, "but how fresh can it be, how fresh does it look, if it's sitting there for hours?" she added.
Terry Walsh, marketing director for the Miami division of Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., said stores with big volume in his division put an extra person on from 10 a.m. to noon to prep sandwich ingredients. And another deli executive said it's necessary to build in flexibility.
"If someone orders six or seven sandwiches, for example, we can pull another associate in to help for a few minutes. It's usually whoever is tending the salad bar," he said.
There has to be a solid commitment from management to make a made-to-order sandwich program work, said Michael Knisley, deli-bakery director at Consumers Markets, Springfield, Mo.
"If you have a store manager who doesn't give you the help you need or doesn't take the program seriously, you're in trouble." It's necessary to have at least one person dedicated to making the sandwiches during peak periods, he said.
"If you have a person dividing his or her time between sandwiches and doing other things, it won't work. People have to wait too long," Knisley said.
It's precisely the labor-intensity of a made-to-order sandwich program that is keeping a lot of chains away from that. "We do only premade sandwiches, mostly hoagies. It's the labor factor that keeps us away from anything other than that," said a Southwest retailer.