Pfc. Kendel Gustisha, front left, and Spc. Jocelyn Kopac, front right, dig in to hot food served up by the Wisconsin Army National Guard Headquarters Co. after spending the day out in the cold. Local businesses are offering a free meal to veterans on Nov. 11. (Source: Tribune News Service)

Local businesses are honoring veterans and active duty U.S. military by offering them a free meal on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. IHOP, Longhorn Steak House and Village Inn are among the many businesses offering freebies like as appetizers or dessert to those who have served in the military.

Other businesses, however, are going all-out, offering a full meal — drink excluded — to current and veteran military members. Applebee’s, Chili’s, Golden Corral, Famous Dave’s and Olive Garden are each offering a select menu to choose from.

Gregory Wade, a sophomore at WSU and Air Force Veteran, looks forward to eating free on Veterans Day.

“I’ll never say no to free food,” Wade said. “I didn’t know about this last year, but this year I won’t miss it.”

Most businesses require one form of military ID, either a government issued card, a VFW card, a veteran’s stamp on their driver’s license or a copy of their DD-214 to receive a free meal. John Nelson, general manager of Chili’s in Layton, said, “They can come in uniform or even bring a picture of themselves in uniform if they can’t find their ID.”

Nelson warns WSU veterans to expect long wait times, though. “It’s going to be our busiest day of the year for this location. We expect lines out the door,” Nelson said. After reviewing past years’ sales, he recommends any that veteran hoping to get a quick bite come between 2 and 4 p.m. “Last year, we had a lull between lunch and dinner. We can get them in quicker then.”

Adriane Chapman, a manager at the Layton Applebee’s, expects long waits as well. “I imagine the wait to be about half-an-hour to forty-five minutes all day.”

Riverdale Applebee’s has an interesting strategy this year to shorten wait times. They are providing a community table, which will service individuals or couples together in one large table to expedite service. “It really brings our community together and ensures no one has to eat alone,” Chapman said.

Chapman also explained why a smaller, select menu will be available to military members. “We have been preparing for this for weeks, making sure we’ve ordered enough to serve everyone. This way, we can have things prepped and ready to go to serve the most amount of people we can,” said Chapman.

Olive Garden also offers a select menu for veterans to choose from, and Golden Corral offers a free entrance to their buffet. Both restaurants’ managers were unavailable for comment.

When asked if the staff was looking forward to the busy crowd Chapman said, “Everybody loves working Veterans Day. Our team members are coming in early, and some are volunteering to work two shifts that day. It is just our little way of saying thank you.”

Nelson claims his staff is also excited for Friday. “We absolutely love it. At Chili’s, our purpose is to connect, serve and give the best. This is our opportunity to give back to those who served and gave their best to our country.”

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