Passport Program Expands, Diversifies for Liquor Laws

Erica Naftolowitz

The Passport Program, which offers summer-long discounts at restaurants and bars in various cities, will expand to six new cities this summer, though its standard two-for-one specials may not; the program, in its second year, has had to adapt to work with the myriad liquor laws that govern states.

The program works by offering a passport, or a small booklet of drink specials, at 40 to 50 establishments in a given city. Diners can purchase the booklets for $20, and the specials run from Memorial Day through Labor Day. PJ Hoberman and Casey Berry founded the program in 2013 in Denver, and last year expanded it to Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado, as well as Brooklyn, New York.

This year, six new cities will join: Colorado Springs, Colorado; Los Angeles; Santa Barbara; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and Columbia, Missouri.

"Our model, for the majority of the country, is two-for-one specials, and we find that works great," Berry says. "But for California and Washington, we found they have a little bit of a different law. So, we've adjusted our passport to be a book full of discounted drinks instead of a two-for-one model."

The different laws Berry refers disallow two-for-one offers on certain beverages, while others mandate that certain drinks cannot be offered below cost. "I assume all this stems from penny beer nights and college drinking back in the day," Berry says.

"It's nice that we have two models now, so I don't see us being prevented from going anywhere else," he adds. "It's been a learning curve, but we're able to move forward."

With the addition of new cities this year, the Passport Program relied more heavily on its city managers, who are typically well connected in the industry and have a good taste of the food and beverage culture in a given town. These on-the-ground folks make recommendations about which restaurants, bars, and breweries to include in the passport, and then try to recruit them.

"We have a rule of only inviting places you would take your friends to," Berry says. "That could be a fancy restaurant or a dive bar. It depends on what that city manager would want to take their friends to."

Adding Brooklyn to the program last year also opened Hoberman and Berry's eyes as to how hard it can be to screen a big city for the right venues to include. Berry says they had to adapt their marketing tactics, which helped them this year when they went after large metropolises like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

"This year will be a really good test because we have a couple of huge markets and a couple of medium-large markets, and it'll be exciting to see which ones work best," Berry adds.

By Sonya Chudgar

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