SAN DIEGO - Army reservist Dennis Rances had a general idea of how he would spend Veterans Day with his military friends, and none of it required money.
The Afghanistan war veteran figured they would start with a free breakfast, ride their motorcycles and then stop for a no-cost dinner. Not just food was on the house Tuesday, there was also free admission at select theatres to the World War II film "Fury," starring Brad Pitt.
"Let's go, dude!" said Rances' Army veteran friend, Cesar Garcia. He stood among motorcycles outside a packed Denny's in San Diego as fellow veterans wearing hats with Purple Heart logos and military T-shirts passed.
Veterans Day is not only a time to honour those who have served in the military: For American businesses, it's also a time to back up that appreciation with a freebie.
A slew of locally owned businesses and national chains offered something free Tuesday to anyone who has served in the military — a trend that has been growing since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"I think it's pretty cool businesses are showing their appreciation this way," Rances said.
Many, like Rances, started the day with a free meal. Denny's was offering a Grand Slam breakfast on the house, and IHOP served up free red, white and blue pancakes.
Veterans could then walk off the calories in national parks, which offered free admission to everyone, and re-energize with a free 12-ounce cup of Starbucks-brewed coffee for current and former military members and their spouses.
They could stop in for a free haircut at Great Clips or get a card to redeem one by Dec. 31, then grab lunch or dinner without spending a dime at Applebee's, Olive Garden or Chili's, among others.
And that's only scratching the surface: There were free appetizers, beer, gym passes, car washes and video game tokens.
Retired Navy Cmdr. David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said he was inundated with offers.
"It's kind of overkill," he said. "There's only one of me, and I can only eat one lunch."
While veterans appreciate the goodwill gesture, many, like Glazier, missed out because they had to work. Some businesses were extending the deals beyond Tuesday.
Glazier planned to go to Knott's Berry Farm, the theme park south of Los Angeles, which is offering free tickets to present and former military members and a guest until the beginning of January.
Bob Goldin, executive vice-president of the Chicago-based food industry consulting firm Technomic, has not seen figures on the impact of the deals, but he does not believe they lead to a long-term boost in sales.
But with so many big-name companies offering freebies, there is pressure to join them.
"It's like apple pie," he said. "It's patriotism. Who dares being anti-veteran?"
Most veterans were well-aware that the freebies were also a marketing opportunity for businesses, but Glazier said that's not a bad thing.
"To me, the real perversion is Memorial Day, because Memorial Day has become a giant party day and sale day for American businesses, yet that is supposed to be the day we honour America's war dead," Glazier said. "Veterans at least are alive and here. So offering a free lunch to them or another sincerely good deal, I think it's a nice thing to do."