A Seasonal Experience from D.C. to Denver
For adventurous souls fueled by wanderlust, stamped passports are intrinsically linked to visiting new and exciting places in far-flung corners of the world – but in a handful of cities across the United States, a seasonal passport is a food and beverage enthusiast’s key to exploring new and exciting places in his or her community. Launched in 2013, The Passport Program curates a one-of-a-kind experience each summer and winter, giving passport holders the opportunity to enjoy drink specials, private events, and other perks at dozens of locally owned bars, restaurants, and taprooms around their cities. With the Summer 2018 edition in full swing, Passport Program director Amy Osgood tells us more about what it takes to coordinate the program’s delicious deals each season.
Exploring Your City
Two Parts, a Denver-based event company, started The Passport Program to showcase local restaurants and bars with an experience similar to the one offered during Restaurant Week but without the week-long time crunch.
“[We wanted it to] last the duration of the summer,” Osgood says. “We also wanted to provide a really good excuse for people to go out and try and explore new places, and that’s kind of where the 2-for-1 model came into play. After that inaugural season in Denver in 2013, we thought the format worked really well [and it] seemed to be well-received, so we expanded to other markets outside of Colorado.”
The program’s Summer 2018 edition, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day (May 25-Sep. 3), is available in eight cities across the United States: Boulder, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Denver, Colo.; Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.; Washington, D.C.; and Minneapolis. For $20, locals and adventurous visitors can score 2-for-1 drink deals at 40 businesses, as well as invitations to exclusive parties, pop-ups, and giveaways, and, in certain cities, even 2-for-1 pizza slices.
Denver’s passport is $25 and includes beverage specials at 68 businesses, while a Mountain passport appeals to well-traveled Coloradans with drink deals at 31 businesses across the state. Passport holders can bring their copy to each location one time, and, as with a traditional passport, receive a stamp on that location’s page to indicate that the offer has been redeemed.
Passports have also previously been curated for Seattle, New York City’s Brooklyn neighborhood, and Nashville, Tenn. Since there isn’t a “set formula” for deciding where to launch passports each season, the cities that receive one may change each year as those piloting the program study different markets.
“We learned that no two cities are the same, so what works in one market might not work in another,” Osgood says. “It’s those anomalies that we’ve learned the hard way that allow us to say, ‘Okay, we think this city will work because of these factors, or won’t work for these reasons.'”
The Passport Program currently sells at least a few thousand passports in each of its markets, with the passports for some cities completely selling out. There is often high demand for passports in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, but exploration is at the heart of the program and it’s not always feasible to curate passports for large cities that are more difficult to navigate. Aside from obstacles imposed by “sheer population,” the biggest barrier for some cities is complicated state or local liquor laws.
“At this current juncture, [as we’re] trying to get brand consistency, we’re only operating in markets that allow for 2-for-1 beverage specials, just because we think that provides a great value to the customer and it allows us to have consistent messaging across all the cities we’re in,” Osgood says. “You need to make sure you are able to provide that incentive and value for the consumer, so if they’re not able to discount liquor or if they have strict laws on it, that would probably prevent us from entering a city.”
Crafting Your Experience
To fill each market’s passport with 2-for-1 deals at spots customers will love, the program employs local managers who are familiar with the food and beverage scenes in their cities.
“We’re really trying to create an experience that someone can only have in this city,” Osgood says. “A lot of times, people are having their friends visit from out of town, so we ask, ‘Would you take a friend from out of town here? Is this a place that really represents your city?'”
Most of the businesses featured in the passport are locally owned and operated, which helps create a one-of-a-kind experience for locals and visitors alike, but the program’s organizers also try to ensure the passport’s list of businesses and beverages is comprehensive.
“We try to make sure that all the restaurant groups in town are represented, [and] we try to make sure each neighborhood is represented,” Osgood says. “One of the last things is making sure there’s a good mix of all the drinks.”
Providing 2-for-1 deals on craft beer, cocktails, and wine means the passport can still be enjoyed by those with dietary restrictions or intolerances and particular preferences. However, the participating businesses ultimately determine what will be offered at their location.
“We definitely try to encourage them to showcase what it is they do well with their bar program [and] what it is they’re proud of, while also trying to offer a variety of options because everyone likes to have options and not everyone likes the same thing,” Osgood says. “Sometimes they might be really proud of their barrel-aged Old Fashioned and if that’s what they want to offer, we can provide them feedback – but we really leave it up to them, since they’re the ones who are going to be executing the program all summer long.”
Appreciating Your Community
Using social media giveaways and special promotions, the Passport Program aims to make the passport experience available to those who may not otherwise be able to purchase one. In the past, social media giveaways have included gift cards, vacation packages, and even a free passport or two; but this year, the program launched a Summer 2018 “Scholarship” for Teacher Appreciation Week.
“We have conversations every year about what nonprofits to involve, so that’s something that’s been in our conversations since day one,” Osgood says. “We didn’t just knock a couple bucks off; it was an entirely free passport [and] we’re really proud of that. We have distributed upwards of 5,000 passports at this point, and we’re still getting positive feedback on it. I’m glad that we were able to do that and be part of a company that’s open to something that’s as large an initiative as that was. Hopefully those teachers get to have a really fun summer.”
The program also tries to give customers another way to spend time in their communities by connecting them to special events that have been coordinated with local or national sponsors and participating restaurants or bars.
“We did some digging last year and found the main reason people buy the passport is to participate in their city,” Osgood says. “The average consumer is seeking out maybe two to three opportunities to participate in their city per month, and they view the passport as that. In addition to that, we want to do right by the venues and try to work with them to do the pop-ups where maybe we can do a fun tiki night at a place that doesn’t normally serve those drinks.”
Another way the program supports participating locations is by issuing a “Courteous Traveler” reminder on its website, urging passport holders to tip servers and bartenders according to the number of drinks they consume rather than the price on their final tab.
“It goes back to chatting with our service staff and understanding some of the struggles they experience,” Osgood says. “Outside of the passport program, I think that even with Happy Hour, the average consumer doesn’t understand that you should be tipping on the full amount, and the same goes for the Passport. We want to keep the service industry happy and it’s definitely a different compensation model than someone who’s earning a full salary or working 9 to 5 understands. [It’s important to] compensate the staff adequately, especially when you are getting that free drink.”
Summer 2018 passports are still available for purchase through the Passport Program website. You may also sign up for updates about the upcoming Winter 2018 edition, which is expected to return to many of the Summer edition’s cities.