Veterans Day free meals: one way businesses are saying 'thanks'

Veterans Day free meals and discounts on merchandise are among the many deals businesses are offering to express gratitude to US military veterans and active-duty personnel.

Sean D. Elliot/AP
Dominic Harris sits with his father, Boatswains Mate 2nd Class Jeremiah Harris, as students are joined by their service-member parents for a Veterans Day tribute on Wednesday at Charles Barnum Elementary School in Groton, Conn. The school is near a US Navy base.

Need a meal or a haircut? Maybe a new power saw for your shop or even a bridal gown?

If you’re a military vet, Veterans Day means all of these – and much more – are available to you free of charge or at a discounted price.

Across the country, restaurants, retail stores, lodgings, and recreational facilities – thousands of them – are offering special deals for veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families.

IN PICTURES: Veterans Day

For two years now, US Marine Corps vet David Nelson has gone door-to-door in Seattle, asking businesses if they’d like to honor military veterans in their community. Last year, his list of “freebies and discounts for veterans on Veterans Day” – posted online to his blog site – numbered 20. This year, it’s 30, mostly restaurants but also everything from the Seattle Art Museum to the Brown Bear Car Wash.

“Military deployments and training are hard on families, and to me it's an honor to name restaurants where a military family can sit down as a family and enjoy a meal after a day at the zoo at a minimal price,” says Mr. Nelson, now an instructor at local community colleges. “Lately, I've had businesses approaching me asking if they can be listed as places that will honor veterans.”

Several nationwide restaurant chains are having special deals for veterans, including Applebee’s, Famous Dave’s, Chili’s, and Outback Steak House. McCormick & Schmick’s offered vets a free meal last Sunday, and Golden Corral will have its 10th annual free “thank you” dinner for veterans, active-duty personnel, and those serving in the reserves or National Guard this coming Monday.

Still hungry? Stop off at Krispy Kreme for a free doughnut.

'It's a real privilege for us'

“It is a real privilege for us to serve our veterans and active-duty military on this national day of respect and remembrance,” says Applebee’s president Mike Archer. “We’re looking forward to hosting them again this year.”

It’s not just free or discounted meals.

More than 850 bed-and-breakfast inns offered vets the chance to stay free on Wednesday, the night before Veterans Day. Some rooms are still available, but most reservations were quickly filled. Check here.

"These are some trying times for anyone serving or who has served and a good night's rest is our way to say, thank you,” says Kathleen Panek, owner of the Gillum House in Shinnston, W.Va.

Shopping for tools or other home improvement items? Home Depot and Lowe’s are offering vets a 10 percent discount on Veterans Day. Active-duty personnel get the discount every day at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Dollar General variety stores have the 10 percent discount for vets on Veterans Day too.

Like most special deals for vets, some kind of identification is required – a military ID or discharge document.

A good deal on wedding gowns

The most unique offer may be the “Nationwide Military 2010 Wedding Gown Giveaway Event” sponsored by “Brides Across America,” which was started in 2007 by Heidi Janson, who owns a bridal boutique in New Hampshire.

Now, more than two dozen bridal stores across the country are taking part. According to the organization’s web site, “Each store will be preparing a select number of gowns to give away. Most of the gowns are samples and overstocks and are worth approximately $500 to $3,000. Dresses range in sizes from 4-22 and will be given away on a first-come, first serve basis as long as you qualify.”

The bridal gowns are being made available free of charge to women who've served (or whose fiancés have served) in Iraq, Afghanistan or Qatar within the past five years.

So if you’re a vet this Veterans Day, it’s possible to dress for your wedding, go to restaurants, stay at a B&B, and tour national parks on your honeymoon (the parks are free to everybody on Nov. 11) – all at little or no cost. The home improvement projects can come later.

It’s the business community’s way of saying “thanks.”

IN PICTURES: Veterans Day

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