By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Vets on a tight budget can put away their wallets over the next few days.
Some of the nation's largest retailers are offering a satchel full of freebies to veterans and active military members in honor of Veterans Day. Most of the freebies require proof of military service. Many are restricted to specific hours on Friday, but some of the giveaways begin earlier and have fewer restrictions.
Free grub's on tap at more than a dozen chains, from Applebee's to Hooters. There are free amusement park entries and freebie national park visits. And free 7-Eleven Slurpees.
The gestures aren't driven only by patriotism. In many cases, freebie-seeking vets bring along family and friends. And in a tough economy, there's nothing like the word "free" to attract business.
"Because of the bad economy, it's going to get a lot more attention," says Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W Public Relations. "People just love free stuff."
The PR value is priceless, branding consultant Steven Addis says. "It's one of the few things in these politically charged days that both sides can rally around."
Among the Vet Day freebies (see retailer websites for restrictions):
--Meals. Applebee's, Olive Garden, Chili's, Texas Roadhouse, Cheeseburger in Paradise and Hooters all offer versions of free meals on Friday, and participating Subways in some markets offer free 6-inch subs. McCormick & Schmick's offers free meals on Sunday. For the 10th year, Golden Corral is giving out free dinners on Monday, with no ID required. Through Friday, Outback Steakhouse offers free Bloomin' Onion appetizers and soft drinks.
--Amusement park visits. SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place offer free admission to active-duty military and up to three dependents, once a year.
--National park visits. The National Park Service will not charge entrance fees at more than 100 national parks Friday through Sunday.
--B&B visits. Through the group B&Bs for Vets, nearly 500 bed-and-breakfasts are offering vets a free night's stay tonight.
--Pillows.Sleep Number, the adjustable-mattress chain, is offering a free cotton travel pillow to military personnel who visit a store on Friday. "We know the stresses, pain and difficulties of re-acclimating to life after service," spokeswoman Gabby Nelson says.