In his tenth year with Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill and fifth year as their wine director, Aaron Wood-Snyderman shares the ways in which he has updated his wine program to meet the needs of his guests ordering takeout, oven-ready meals and ready-to-grill steaks. While indoor dining is currently closed in Seattle, this decades-old institution has successfully found new ways to offer their classic fare, signature hospitality and exceptional wine selections.
Has the size or composition of your wine team changed this year?
Yes. Most of our staff has been with the company over 10 years, some for 20-30 years, which is incredible. This year, we were unfortunately not able to retain the whole wine team due to the changing nature of the regulations and subsequent business. During the indoor dining ban, I am the only one working at this time. Pre-pandemic, the team consisted of myself (wine director), a cellar master and three other full-time wine captains. When we get back to 100 percent capacity everyone who was on the wine team will have the opportunity to have their job back.
How does wine fit into your take-out program?
We are currently offering curbside pickup of our regular menu as well as “The Met At Home,” which are par-cooked meals and ready-to-grill steaks that can be finished at home. Making our 3,000-plus bottle wine list available in its entirety for curbside pick-up guests wasn’t a viable option with our reduced staff, so I developed a list of about 12 wines that offer both value and versatility.
This selection of wines offers more value and changes based on inventory. They are priced at essentially retail markup, rather than traditional restaurant pricing. The restaurant still makes a small profit but it’s more about encouraging guests to add it to their order with us instead of ordering from Instacart or a large retailer. The selections are designed to meet the needs of almost any guest in a very abbreviated number of offerings, so they have broad appeal.
We also have a membership-based “Cellar Club” which began in 2018, where guests subscribe at three different tiers, picked up on a quarterly basis. This option offers our guests access to exclusive wines like Heitz Trailside Vineyard or Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François and more. During the shut-down we have had three releases of the wine club. It’s been a great additional source of revenue for the restaurant.
Have you revised or downsized your wine list significantly over the past year?
We still have our larger 3,000-plus bottle inventory and list, but I have adjusted the offerings we feature with our takeout menu for the sake of brevity and focus. I have not been purchasing a lot of new inventory and we have a very deep cellar as it is. Aside from wines by the glass and Cellar Club selections, new inventory has been kept as minimal as possible.
How has the pandemic changed your role at the restaurant and how might that impact your approach to your job when the restaurant reopens for indoor dining?
My role has shifted a lot. Obviously, I am no longer working on the floor while indoor dining is closed. Members of the Cellar Club have wanted to do private acquisitions from our cellar which has been a great new revenue source. Developing custom menus with the chef and selected wineries has been interesting. Almost like a wine dinner, but the takeout version! The special part about our restaurant is so rooted in coming into the dining room, being greeted by name by the maître d’, having a bond with the loyal staff, us knowing your whole family; that it’s been a challenge to figure out how to translate that to the to-go model. The value of that is so special, and I am looking forward to having that back as soon as we can reopen indoor dining again. It’s something I will never take for granted again.
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