Costco employees share their best food court secrets and hacks

  • Costco's food court has attracted many fans.
  • Some of the Costco food court's biggest fans may be the employees themselves.
  • Some employees say you don't even need to be a store member to grab a hot dog or a slice of pizza at Costco's food court.
  • The chain deliberately keeps prices low to better customers' shopping experiences.


Costco food courts have a bit of a cult following.

The retail chain is well-known for hawking cheap eats you can grab once you wrap up your shopping spree. But these food courts aren't just some tacked-on idea to help the store make a quick buck. They're kind of a big deal. In fact, in the pizza business, Costco is actually the 14th-largest pizza chain in the US.

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You don't always need a membership to shop there

A standard Costco membership, which costs $60 a year, can help a customer rack up huge savings.

But you don't necessarily need one to grab a bite to eat at the chain. Non-members also have a chance to swing by the food court, Business Insider's Jessica Tyler reported.

On Reddit, Costco employees said that, while the food courts are supposed to be members-only, the rule is rarely enforced in some stores.

"When I was a greeter, we didn't care," wrote one Costco employee in a Reddit AMA. "A couple years later they changed it to require a membership. I think we're being lenient again."

The employee went on to say that the debate over whether or not to serve non-members comes down to whether the food court is a "service" for existing members or a "money-maker" that could help attract new members.

The food is incredibly cheap but still delicious — and yes, employees eat it

You get a ton of bang for your buck at Costco food courts.

A hot dog and a beverage will cost you $1.50. A giant slice of pizza goes for $1.99, and a full pie is $9.95.

When Business Insider's Hollis Johnson visited a Costco food court in Brooklyn, he ordered practically everything on the menu. The whole smorgasbord came out to just over $25.

And, what's more, the food's pretty good, considering the deal.

"Costco's pizzas are pretty incredible considering the price," Costco worker Stefan Winter wrote on Quora. "Crust is yummy, toppings are good quality, what's not to love?"

There are more great options other than the pizza or hot dog, and some depend on where you live 

While Costco's pizza and hot dogs might be the chain's most famous selections, there are a number of other options, too.

BBQ brisket sandwich, turkey-and-provolone sandwiches, a "confusing yet delicious" chicken bake, and massive churros are all on the menu, too.

Regional and temporary menu items also include poutine, clam chowder, piña colada-flavored smoothies, and fries.

Former Costco employee Robert Lu wrote on Quora that he typically hits up the store's food court during his lunch break. His favorite menu staple was the $1.99 slice of combo pizza, followed by gelato.

"Regardless of what you eat as the 'main course', the pistachio gelato — or any gelato — is to die for," he wrote.

Some employees love it when you call ahead to order a pizza

Costco members can call ahead to order a pizza for pickup. And some employees really appreciate the heads up.

In a Reddit AMA, a Costco food court employee wrote, "I personally love it when people call. They know when they're getting their pizza, they don't have to wait 10+ minutes for it, everyone's happy."

Unfortunately, the employee added that most people order during the food court's busy times. If you're desperate to avoid the wait, the employee recommended ordering an hour or so before your desired pickup.

Employees know what wines pair nicely with food court items

What wine pairs best with Costco hot dogs?

It's a question that former Costco employee Alex Barrett answered on Quora:

"The Costco hot dog has a rather strong flavor, as far as hot dogs go, which can be redoubled with copious portions of complimentary condimentary onions," he wrote. "So you'll want a wine with a overpowering, Listerine-like, nose to it. Definitely a red."

His wine of choice? Ménage à Trois.

"It'll simultaneously compliment and overpower the onions. It comes in a bottle with a cork, so you can appear sophisticated. But the name still says, 'Hey, I'm not taking this seriously,'" he wrote. "And it's available at Costco."

The grub is unhealthy — but you can ask for nutritional information

Unsurprisingly, most of the meals available at Costco's food court tend to be on the unhealthy side.

The good news is it's easy to find out how much damage your Costco food court run will do to your diet.

Just ask an employee for the menu's nutritional information. They will give you a printout, according to the Daily Meal.

Writing on the blog Addicted to Costco, a former food court employee wrote that, "We will happily provide you with a print out of the nutritional information. We keep them easily accessible in the food court with multiple copies. Don't be afraid to ask!"

There's not much of a wait time — but you'll get fresher food when the lines are long 

You won't have to wait around to get your food, most of the time.

Some Costco employees can whip up pizzas in a jiff with the help of a spinning machine that actually pours sauce on the pizzas. On Reddit, however, other Costco workers noted that not all stores have such a sauce-distribution machine.

Still, fast service is a highlight of the experience, according to Business Insider's Hollis Johnson.

There is one upside to a busy food court, though. Higher demand may ensure you'll get the freshest possible food.

"Lunchtime is always a safe bet for fresh food," a seven-year Costco employee wrote in a Reddit AMA. "When the lines are long, the churros are good."

You don't have to worry about food court costs spiking...

You don't have to worry about getting hit with a price hike at the Costco food court.

"We'll sell you a hot dog and soda for $1.50, same price since 1991 by the way, and make eight cents per sale, just so your last experience before leaving is one of a pleasant cashier treating you well and giving you a good deal," an anonymous Costco employee told Pop Sugar.

... but don't think the food court isn't helping the chain's bottom line

But what's Costco really getting out of its cheap and popular food court?

On Quora, a former competitive buyer at Costco wrote that the food courts are actually "the main contributor to the dividends its shareholders get."

"Do not think for one minute that Costco does not make a huge margin on food court products," user Lenin Lobaton wrote. "That is where the profit of Costco comes from. In short, the food court is a gold mine for Costco."

In response to another Quora question, he wrote that "the $1.50 hot dog and soda, pizza, and churros are all bottom line contributors."

Other Costco employees say the hot dog deal is bait to draw in hungry shoppers.

"We do not make money off of our food," food court employee Josh Smith wrote on Quora. "The $1.50 hot dog deal is called a 'loss leader,' which means that it is used to draw in buyers for other higher-priced items like the chicken bake, brisket sandwich, and our new item, chili."

"The whole thing is mainly a 'member service' which is just to keep them happy," he wrote.

Are you a Costco employee with a story to share? Email acain@businessinsider.com.

SEE ALSO: 11 insider facts about shopping at Costco only employees know

DON'T MISS: We ate at a Costco food court, and it was one of the best dining experiences we've ever had

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If you're looking to grab something tasty and cheap, it's definitely a good option.

Costco employees have shared a number of tips that can help you make the most of your food court visit.

Here are a few things you should know before you visit Costco's food court

RELATED: Always avoid this at Costco

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Costco products you need to avoid
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Costco products you need to avoid

Facial tissues

A runny nose deserves some quality tissue, but you may not find that at Costco. Consumer Reports found that the Kirkland Signature facial tissue, at $1.23, has so-so strength, ranking in the middle of their pack of facial tissue ratings.

For the same price, you can get Puffs Basic, which has a dream combo of "superb softness with very good strength."

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Dog food

Dogs may be worth every penny you spend, but know there are a lot of pennies involved — theminimum annual cost of owning a dog is $1,001 and can be as high as $1,448. If you buy your pup's food at Costco, it may be even higher.

The Krazy Coupon Lady switched from Kirkland Signature Nature's Domain dry dog food to Diamond Naturals dry dog food when she realized that Costco sold the former at $0.97 per pound and Amazon sold the latter for $0.82 per pound. That saves you both 15% and the hassle of lugging a 40-pound bag of dog food on a flat bed Costco cart.

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Pasta 

No one does pasta like Italy, but sometimes purchasing it from the store will have to make do — just make sure it's not from Costco.

Blogger The Many Little Joys has had better experience stocking up on pasta when it's on sale at the normal grocery store than when buying it at Costco. "I usually only pay $0.50 to $1 per pound for pasta, which Costco can't beat," she writes.

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Toiletries

While you're tending to personal care, don't neglect caring for your wallet. Whether lotion, toothpaste, deodorant, conditioner, or the like is on your shopping list, Costco may not be your best bet to check those items off.

"If you are a coupon and deal shopper, supermarkets and drugstores feature these types of items with coupons frequently, so you can stock up on multiple quantities of smaller sizes for pennies," Stephanie Nelson, founder of The Coupon Mom, told Bankrate.

If you don't believe her, consider The Krazy Coupon Lady's incredible find: a deal where razors were $0.99 each at Target, compared to $1.43 at Costco.

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Towels

Sleep well at night knowing you didn't overspend on your sheets at Costco.

According to Kyle James of Rather-Be-Shopping, shoppers can typically save 30% to 40% more by purchasing bed sheets, comforters, and towels at off-price retail chains such as TJ Maxx, Ross, and Marshalls. Sales and coupons for department stores, such as JCPenney and Macy's, can also be the ticket to a better deal.

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Canned goods

Canned goods have a long shelf life, but their price at Costco isn't as promising. Teri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com, tells Kiplinger that you can score better deals on canned goods when they're on sale at the supermarket — expect them to be 20% to 40% less per unit.

The Many Little Joys points out that buying generic brand canned goods is your best bet when saving pennies — even better when they're on sale, too.

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Name brand cereal

Bargain hunters alike agree that America's favorite sugar morning fix is better bought on sale at the grocery store. A two-pack of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal can cost $7.99 at Costco, but with the right coupons, you can bring this price way down elsewhere.

"Don't let the bigger boxes at Costco fool you," writes James. "They're almost always more expensive per serving than what you can find at the cheapest grocery store in your town."

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Soda

Author and frugal living expert Jeff Yeager told Kiplinger that you can always find soda on sale for less than you'd spend at a place like Costco.

A $7 to $8 24-pack at the wholesaler can run a hole in your wallet twice as big as paying for two discounted 12-packs at the grocery store — Coke products go on sale every other week for $2 to $2.50 per 12-pack.

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Black printer ink

Don't let the large size of the packaging of printer ink at Costco trick you, warns The Krazy Coupon Lady.

Amazon actually sells the same ink, only cheaper — it's just $22.04 per cartridge compared to Costco's $29.50 per cartridge. Bonus: it comes without the giant packaging.

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Feminine hygiene products

Women's periods cost more than just painful cramps — they also cost a good chunk of their paycheck. The Huffington Post revealed that the average woman spends $1,773.33 on tampons throughout her lifetime. Ouch.

That number is high enough without overspending at Costco, where prices for feminine hygiene products are almost 50% more than the base sale price at other stores.

And that doesn't exclude online retailers — Amazon has a history of selling pantyliners for a couple dollars cheaper than those at Costco. You can also snag a lower price buying from drugstores with printable coupons.

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Household cleaners

Housekeeping demands can get expensive. Save the dollar signs for home maintenance instead by cutting costs on household cleaners.

Costco's household cleaner prices are almost 50% more than the bottom line deal at other stores, says The Krazy Coupon Lady. "The smaller the quantity of an item, the larger the savings when using store sales and coupons," she writes.

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Peanut butter

The blogger behind Root of Good compared the price of a 16-ounce jar of generic peanut butter among five grocery stores — Aldi ($1.08), Walmart ($1.16), Target ($1.20), Costco ($1.67), and Trader Joe's ($1.99).

Notably, Costco is the fourth most expensive on the list. You'd be nuts to pay for that price.

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SEE ALSO: 11 insider facts about shopping at Costco only employees know

DON'T MISS: We ate at a Costco food court, and it was one of the best dining experiences we've ever had

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