But there was also a little ulterior motive on my part. For several years I have written about restaurants offering a free meal to veterans, and I wondered what the experience was like. Super-crowded? Not as great as expected?
We went to the Applebee's in Bountiful at about 3:30 p.m., and it seemed so quiet when we walked in that I wondered if I'd made a mistake in my reporting of this event. But, it turned out that there were lots of tables taken, there just wasn't a crowd waiting for a table. The press release said that some form of military ID was required. Kim was wearing his Vietnam Vet hat, but I also brought along the shadow box my daughter made for him, with his photos and army insignia. I mean, anyone could put on a hat and say they served, right? But, the hostess didn't seem to worried that we were trying to sneak a free meal.
Veterans had a special menu with quite a few choices, and Kim chose the Double Crunch Shrimp. He said his meal was great, although he didn't realize the shrimp were going to be deep-fried. (What puts the crunch in "double crunch?") Amy and I ordered off the regular menu, of course. She was happy with the buffalo wings and side salad, and I enjoyed a grilled shrimp and spinach salad, with crunchy almond slices and a sweet, bacony dressing.
A hostess came to our table and gave us a $5 voucher to use on a future visit to Applebee's, and thanked Kim for his service. Those words of thanks still mean something to him, because when he came home from Vietnam, there was no hero's welcome. War protesters were calling soldiers "baby killers" and most Americans just wanted the war to be over.
While we were finishing our meal, the waiting area began to fill. It was interesting to watch people walk in and guess where or when they served their country. Kim talked to a man who served in three wars: World War II, Korean War and Vietnam.
Our overall experience was a positive one. The food and service were great, and there was a feeling of comradery, mostly unspoken, among the diners there.
But I would advise anyone to go before 4 p.m. You'll avoid a long wait for a table, and wait staff usually give better service when they're not rushed and trying to turn over tables quickly.
Next year I hope to make the trek out Tooele way and take my Dad to Applebee's there. He served in the Navy during World War II. It's not a matter of getting a "free meal," because we certainly could buy him lunch elsewhere. But it felt like we were part of something a little special today, and I'd like for him to feel that way as well.