New York City and TGI Friday's Don't Support the Troops

by Abe Sauer

It is fashionable to despise the TGI Friday’s location in New York City’s Union Square. The reasons for doing so are usually some blend of self-serving pretension based on the chain’s food selection, its perceived Midwesternness (TGI Friday’s is headquartered in Texas) or one’s own coastal elitism.

But loathing the Union Square TGI Friday’s for cultural reasons is childish. There is a whole legitimate reason to detest the establishment. TGI Friday’s in Union Square doesn’t support the troops.

Like many businesses, TGI Friday’s offers special discounts and complimentary products and services to veterans and active military personnel on Veterans Day. These include Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Hooters, and Pizzeria Uno. Titletown Brewery offered vets free beer while employee-owned grocer Hy-vee hosted a breakfast buffet.

TGI Friday’s meanwhile is offering one free entree with the purchase of another from today through the weekend. Additionally, TGI Friday’s managers will present guest veterans with a $5 “bonus bite” card redeemable at a later date.

I spoke with John, a currently serving member of the army who has served in Afghanistan. (The 24-year-old requested his full name not be used.) Asked about the various free promotions, John said he did know about it. He said he had already gotten a free six-inch sandwich at Subway and that he planned of going to the Golden Corral free meal buffet on Monday with a few friends. He didn’t know if he would make it to TGI Friday’s but the deal sounded “not too bad.”

That deal probably wouldn’t sound too bad to anyone making what John does. An enlisted man with a couple years service, his paycheck is about $1,700 a month. Obama’s 2010 Presidential Budget called for a 2.9 percent increase in pay, the absolute minimum legally allowed by the Employment Cost Index. But John shouldn’t count on such wild generosity again in 2011. The “nonpartisan” Congressional Budget Office recently not only called the military pay gap, the amount that military pay lags behind private civilian pay levels, fictitious, but also declared the existence of a military pay surplus to the tune of a whopping 10.3 percent. That’s right, John is vastly overpaid for the job he does compared to civilians in private industry who, assumedly, perform the same job. If John continues to be so overcompensated, Congress risks having “trouble paying for new weapons….”

By the way, John would like to dispel the myth that he doesn’t pay taxes on that $1,700, because he certainly does. But hey, free housing.

Sure, all of these freebies are in some way meant to be advertisements for the chains themselves. But so what? Hopefully John manages to take advantage of all the complimentary goods and services available to him today, no matter how seemingly inadequate they are as a recognition for his service.

But, despite the chain’s gracious offerings and encouragement of “current and former members of our armed forces to let loose and have some much deserved fun,” he, and all of his fellow veterans, should steer clear of TGI Friday’s in Union Square.

The TGI Friday’s at Union Square (a 646 number, natch) told me that it was not participating in the Veterans Day promotion. This appears to be the norm in New York.

I called a random selection of “respectable” Big Apple eateries including the Gramercy Tavern, Le Bernadin, One if by Land, Two if by Sea, Mercer Kitchen, and Brooklyn’s The Grocery. All told me the same thing; there are no specials for veterans, currently serving or otherwise, on Veterans Day. This included TGI Friday’s Union Square-mate Blue Water Grill. The receptionist at Per Se asked me, “What day?”

So, it appears that TGI Friday’s isn’t ruining New York, but that New York is ruining TGI Friday’s.

Abe Sauer is like a runaway train.