Costco employees share their best food court secrets and hacks

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“When the lines are long, the churros are good,” one employee said.
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Hollis Johnson

  • 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.

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:


You don’t always need a membership to shop there

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Helen89/Shutterstock

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

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Hollis Johnson

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

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Hollis Johnson

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

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Hollis Johnson

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

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Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

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

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chia ying Yang/Flickr

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

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Hollis Johnson

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

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Michael Gordon/Shutterstock

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.