If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Thanksgiving comes early for U.S. military veterans every year in the form of Veterans Day. We just have to be proactive enough to go out and get it.
The outpouring of free food and beverages from restaurant chains around the United States has swelled over time to include gas stations, fast-food franchises and even grocery stores. Even if a vet spent the entirety of Veterans Day trying to take advantage of every Tactical Thanksgiving deal, it would be nearly impossible.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt the feat or at least take advantage of as much as we can. (Corporate) America is calling us. Will we let her down?
What to Know About Veterans Day Food Deals
Probably the best silver lining for our post-COVID world is that we can now (in some cases) pre-order, carry out or pull up to the curb and let the deliciousness come to us in a few minutes. You should call ahead and make sure the giveaways are still being given away; if so, place your order and get on with your own personal doordashing.
If you're going to venture out into the world, you might as well make the most of it. But to truly maximize your free food day, it's essential to gather the intel, plan accordingly and move with purpose.
In forming this plan, we've taken a few important factors into account. First, we target only the freebies. Then we consider timing: what can be redeemed on any other day, when these places open and what can be picked up reasonably fast. We also want to know which offerings are the most filling so we can avoid getting stuffed too soon.
When considering takeout, you might pack a cooler because taking the food home first requires time, which you don't have. And we recommend eating some items as soon as possible: There's a diminishing rate of return on pancakes, and grilled cheese is the only food that will eventually become its own spoonerism.
Finally, there are a few alternate plays for those who are unwilling to drive all over town but still want to get some good stuff.
Got all that? Good. Now let's get down to our Veterans Day timeline.
Free Veterans Day food is so popular (obviously), some places have begun offering specials the day before. Get a free breakfast at Hy-Vee on Nov. 10, along with a 15% off coupon for groceries. Denny's begins offering a Build Your Own Grand Slam at 0500 on the 10th. O'Charley's opens up a special free lunch menu for vets on the 10th and Black Angus Steakhouse offers a free lunch between 1200 and 1500.
Breakfast(s) of Champions
A few national breakfast-oriented restaurants have great offerings. Friendly's usually opens its doors at 0600, Wendy's starts handing out breakfast combos at 0630 and Bob Evans opens at 0700. In between, you can grab doughnuts from Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, and free coffee at Casey's General Stores, Biggby Coffee, Starbucks, Wawa and Kwik-Fill.
IHOP opens at 0700 to offer vets its Red, White & Blueberry pancakes, which are delicious but very filling. If you make the mistake of filling up on carbs, you can take a break by picking up some of the other freebies that aren't food but are really useful. At Great Clips, you can stop in for a free haircut or you can just stop by and pick up a card for a free haircut, valid for any day in November. Just Tires is offering free car-care checks, and Delta Sonic is offering a $25 discount on oil change services.
You can also save gas and forgo all this running around by going to Shoney's and getting a free All You Care to Eat Breakfast Bar until 1100.
Before you head out to lunch, stop by places where you can grab a good deal to go and save it for later. A Chili 5-Way at Gold Star Chili can be picked up in the drive-thru. You can quickly grab a half turkey sub and a regular size fountain drink at Sheetz (along with a car wash), a free burger at Smashburger and a free chili dog and small fries at Wienerschnitzel.
A Lunch Too Far
Lunch is when the plan starts to get more complex. Veterans who didn't want to wake up early will now be clogging the lines and making a quick egress more difficult. There's a lot of time-sensitive offers happening starting at 1100 and 1400. Little Caesars is giving away free lunch combos, O'Charley's has a special free lunch menu (as does TGI Fridays) and Texas Roadhouse is offering vouchers for meals to be claimed on other days.
Twin Peaks will offer free meals until 1500 and Sizzler is cooking for vets until 1600. Be sure to pick up a Veterans Shrimp & Chips voucher from Red Lobster, redeemable until Dec. 10.
Famous Dave's BBQ offers its Georgia Chopped Pork Sandwich and a side for pickup, which you can order online by using code VETERAN. You can then stop for Mom's Ricotta Meatballs + Spaghetti from Macaroni Grill or Max & Erma's free cheeseburger and endless fries. Chili's and Applebee's are offering vets free meals from a limited menu, but also offer to-go cocktails. The cocktails aren't free, but they will help take the edge off. Best of all, these places have bar seating so you won't be subject to the hostess' whims.
There are a lot of good offerings from places like Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Robin, California Pizza Kitchen and Hooters. But be warned: These places offer burgers, fries, breaded wings and other carb-filled delights that are likely to fill you up fast and keep your motivation for completing this mission low. No one would blame you if you stopped here. You've done a lot today.
Thank You for Your (Dinner) Service
Now that you've gotten most of the hectic chain restaurants out of the way, you have a few options for dinner. Sadly, Veterans Day favorites Hometown Buffet, Old Country Buffet and Ryan's did not survive the pandemic. You can still get a good pizza buffet for free on Veterans Day at Cicis Pizza, though.
Most of the places listed above will have dinner options, but if you want to wind down the day, Bar Louie is giving away free craft burgers.Or you can burn off some calories at Dave & Buster's with a free $10 power card after your free $20 entree.
The day isn't necessarily over just because you're finally full (and if you're not, you didn't do this right). Grocery stores such as Kroger, Publix and TOPS are all offering discounts for veterans on Nov. 11. Since you definitely won't be hungry, it's the ideal time to go shopping.
After a day like this "Tactical Thanksgiving," it's important for you to know that Planet Fitness is offering free workouts for vets on Veterans Day. You might need to take them up on that.
Miss Out on Free Veterans Day Food?
If you missed any or all of this, don't lose heart. For veterans out there who are on the road this Veterans Day, TravelCenters of America has you covered. Its Iron Skillet and Country Pride restaurants offer free meals for vets on the go.
And all veterans can still redeem a meal from the good people at Pilot Flying J through Nov. 12 or get discounted meals at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants or Kona Grill through Nov. 13. Or you just pull up a chair at Golden Corral on Nov. 13 starting at 1700, when they begin hosting their Military Appreciation Night.
Bon appetit. You earned it.
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