For years, restaurants, retailers and other national brands have been exceedingly generous to America's veterans on Veterans Day, offering free meals, car washes, haircuts and more. It's been going on for so long now, it's important to remind ourselves that this outpouring of freebies is a thanks from a grateful nation, not an entitlement, and we should be equally grateful when we come to collect.
We've asked a few people in the service industry who work at popular Veterans Day destinations, from Twin Peaks to Chili's to IHOP, about their experiences with vets during the holiday. By and large, they love serving veterans; it makes them feel good to give back and see veterans having fun. But they all had at least one terrible experience. So we compiled their answers into a list of ways you can make everyone's Veterans Day dining experience better.
1. Bring Your Proof of Service
Let's not pretend that there aren't people who will steal valor for free chicken wings. A lot of people own Grunt Style shirts and can obtain "veteran" hats. That's not proof of service. If getting a free service or discount requires an ID or DD-214, make sure you bring it with you. If you forget, that's on you, not your server.
2. Be Patient
There are a lot of veterans out there on Veterans Day, and many of them are going to find their way to a free meal. Chances are good that every restaurant with an offering is gonna be packed, so be patient with the staff during long waits. Berating slow service isn't going to get you to a table any faster or make the kitchen more efficient.
3. Read the Fine Print
If the Veterans Day discount doesn't cover alcohol sales, don't be mad when you get your bill just because you forgot to pay attention to detail.
4. Order from the Special Menu
Many places offering free food are using a special Veterans Day menu. If you don't like what's on that menu, don't try to get a free meal from the full menu. You can check out who's offering what with Military.com's Veterans Day Free Meals and Restaurant Deals and Discounts list and plan to get something you want.
5. Don't Try to Get Free Food for Your Spouse
Many of the meals and deals offered on Veterans Day are for veterans only. Sure, spouses serve in their own way, but Applebee's doesn't see fit to give them free food for it. If the freebie isn't open to spouses, don't try to force the issue.
6. When They Run Out, They Run Out
A lot of places are offering only one thing for free, or are only offering during a certain time period. If you missed that window or they ran out of the freebies, accept that you missed out. All of us veterans are programmed to believe being on time means being 15 minutes early, so don't be surprised if the freebies are gone when you show up late.
7. Tip Your Server
The No. 1 issue service workers mentioned is that people coming in for free food either don't tip at all, or tip only based on the cost of their non-alcoholic drinks. C'mon, fellow veterans. We can do better.
A decent tip as a thank you for their service is literally the least we can do after getting $20-$40 worth of free food. Some servers are working a 10-hour shift and are slammed the entire time with free Veterans Day meals. If a server is good to you, you should be tipping 20% of what the bill might have been. It's still a bargain.
8. Be Considerate
As I mentioned earlier, most servers love treating veterans on Veterans Day. For many of them, a good dining experience is the only direct way they can give back to us. But if you're not hanging out to have a few drinks or buy more stuff, don't camp out at the table; open it up to your fellow veterans.
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