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For veterans, this is the three-day weekend to stop counting calories and start devouring free grub.
With patriotism at the top of their menus, many major names in casual and family dining will be offering free food — from doughnuts to pancakes to pizza to entire meals — this Sunday on Veterans Day, or the day before or after.
"It's good food meets goodwill," says Derek Farley, president of restaurant PR chain DFPR. "There are 24 million veterans and troops, and they all remember who feeds them for free on their day of respect."
For the restaurant chains, it's a PR bonanza. With some celebrating Veterans Day on Monday, it fills up seats on what is traditionally the industry's slowest day of the week. If a vet shows up with a party of four — or more — it's a slam-dunk winner for the restaurant, even if the vet doesn't pay for anything he eats, says consultant Linda Lipsky.
But there are twists. At some restaurants, customers can get unnerved waiting to be served — even when the meal's free. And some of the freebies have requirements, such as drink purchases. Most are available to active, inactive and retired military.
Here's some of the free food on tap: (Dates, hours and restrictions differ for each chain. Check websites or Facebook pages for details.)
• Doughnuts: Krispy Kreme will hand out free doughnuts (and free small coffee) to vets on Sunday.
• Pizza: California Pizza Kitchen offers free pizza and non-alcoholic beverages on Sunday or Monday. "Our headline for this promotion: ‘Your Service Deserves Ours,' " says CEO G.J. Hart.
• Pancakes: Denny's doles out all-you-can-eat pancakes to vets on Monday "to highlight our loyalty to such a key demographic," says marketing chief Frances Allen.
• Wings: Hooters offers vets 10 free boneless wings on Sunday, but only if they purchase a drink, too.
• Bagels: Einstein Bros Bagels gives out free Signature or Classic bagels to vets on Sunday.
• Appetizers: Red Lobster on Sunday gives out free appetizers — even Lobster Pizza. Outback has free Bloomin' Onion appetizers and soft drinks on Sunday and Monday.
• Meals: T.G.I. Friday's lets vets pick any lunch item for free on Monday. Free meals for vets are available Sunday at Olive Garden, Applebee's, McCormick & Schmick's, and Chili's; and Monday at Golden Corral.
Why haven't most fast-food joints caught on? "It doesn't resonate well below casual dining," says Farley. "The meaning of the gesture gets lost at the drive-thru window or in the pick-up-your-order-here line."