Over the years, I’ve developed a rather peculiar set of criteria for patronizing or avoiding certain businesses. Yes, when I go shopping or out to eat, I usually aim to get the best product at the best price, and, aside from an occasional splurge, to maximize value. But there are other factors at work when you make purchase decisions. Am I being treated well? Do I feel more like a person or a revenue stream? Are the values of the company (how they treat their employees, what they do for the community, etc.) consistent with my own? In short, when I make a purchase, I like to think that I’m not just getting a product or service, I’m supporting the types of behaviors and principles with which I agree.
There was one time when I ordered a meatball sub from a well-known sandwich chain, only to have one of the meatballs deliberately taken off by the staffer as she was preparing it. So I asked why she did it. It seems that only so many meatballs go onto each sandwich, and I simply was given too many. Now, I’ve worked in the hospitality industry, and completely appreciate the need for cost controls and portion sizing. Businesses exist for many reasons, but certainly one of those reasons is to make money. So I understand the need to ensure some uniformity and consistency in the products businesses offer. You don’t want to give away the store. Maximize revenues, minimize expenses…I get it. But for some reason, taking food off a customer’s sandwich as he stands right there just struck me as unusually pedantic and ungracious. There was very little that was hospitable in that particular visit to a hospitality enterprise, and I avoided the chain for a long time. Maybe I was being overly petty, maybe I caught the wrong person at the wrong time. Who knows? But I sure wasn’t going back there ever again, or at least for a long time.
And so we come to the topic of ‘military discounts’. Yes, there are wonderful places like IHOP, Lowe’s and Home Depot that will give you that discount, no questions asked. Maybe the discounts vary from store to store, but it doesn’t matter. Many, many businesses offer a military discount; just do a web search to find businesses in your area that have them. That they even offer military discounts as a general rule adds to the overall satisfaction I get from doing business with them. Show your ID…done and done. And while I admit to being a little hesitant when my wife initially went Active Duty to ask about whether places offered a military discount, I got over that quickly. And it isn’t even so much about the savings. Yes, a 10% - 20% discount is nice when we go out to eat or buy fertilizer at a home improvement store. But let’s face it: nobody is going to be able to retire early because of military discounts. It’s more about the gesture, the nod to our servicemembers and our armed forces, that I appreciate. I simply feel better about giving my business to those who support the military.
However, I sometimes feel as though businesses offer military discounts simply because their competitors do. If they didn’t, the thought goes, they would be at a competitive disadvantage. Other times, I’ll see a huge banner advertising a “15% Military Discount” so prominently that it comes across as more of a marketing shtick than as a true statement of principles. “We support the military! You should support us!” I suppose that businesses probably offer military discounts for many reasons: 1) We support the military, 2) We want to be seen as supporting the military, and 3) We don’t want to be seen as not supporting the military”. Offering a military discount acts as both a statement of principles as well as an image enhancer or a strategic tool. They’re businesses after all, and positioning themselves as ‘good, patriotic citizens’ is good marketing. They’ll continue to get my business, and I hope yours.
And here comes the “BUT”. BUT, even though I try to avoid making this blog a vent session—there’s enough bellyaching going on in the world already—I will make an exception here.
I’ve noticed more and more that some businesses will offer a military discount to:
1) Active Duty only, not spouses, military families or retirees. For instance, we will go out to a local place to eat, ask for and get the discount, present IDs…and come to find that the discount only applied to my wife’s meal. There’s just something off-putting about this splitting of hairs. I appreciate that those slogans that claim “Families Also Serve”, or “Army Wife: Toughest Job in the Military” aren’t literally true, and that my wife has earned her rank, not me. But I do know that I’m a lot more loyal to businesses that support military families and retirees as much as they do military members.
2) Active Duty in uniform only. This one raises my hackles somethin’ fierce. (I don’t know what that even means, but the expression came to mind…) The military is now doing away with auto stickers to avoid making servicemembers soft targets off post. Likewise, they’re encouraging military to avoid wearing their uniforms when traveling or really anywhere beyond the gate. In short, they’re trying to make the lives of our families and our own lives safer. And I think it’s a good idea. I’m proud as hell to walk with my wife when she’s in uniform. I’m proud as hell of her. But I do understand that wearing the uniform off-post makes her conspicuous, which in turn puts her in slightly more danger. And the military is increasingly advising against wearing uniforms off duty or off post. Businesses, in turn, should recognize that fact, and get rid of those ‘in uniform only’ discount policies. It makes their ‘support’ of our servicemembers conditional on a dress code. Would businesses refrain from offering senior citizen discounts merely because the attire of Grandma Mary is too young and hip for a mature woman? The same idea should apply to our men and women in and out of uniform.
3) Active Duty, in uniform, only on certain days of the month. Look, either you have a military discount or you don’t. This hedge thing they have going on (“we want to seem like we’re supporting our military and be able to claim we do…without actually doing so”) is just tepid and weak. Businesses shouldn’t support our servicemembers merely because the calendar says that it’s time. Doing so is just a thinly veiled gimmick to avoid being seen as unpatriotic, without actually putting their bottom line money where their mouths are. “We support our military only on certain days of the month.” “And I will only support you on certain days of the month. None of them.”
Maybe you’ve seen your own “Conditional, Empty, Toothless Support of the Military and their Families” version of military discounts. I know that some places offer 10% one day and 20% the next. I know that some restaurant servers will often ‘see’ Active Duty military IDs that aren’t really there. (Hey, I understand the game of boosting tips, just like I know that most servers can’t tell an Active Duty ID from a dependent/spouse ID) Some places have policies; some have fluid ‘guidelines’. But my point is this: Vote with your feet, vote with your wallets. Let businesses know that earning your business is, in part, dependent on their degree of support for our military families. It just feels better to support people and businesses that support you and yours.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about military discounts has made me hungry for some IHOP pancakes.