Costco employees share their 11 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 food court is supposed to be a membership perk, so it’s possible that you’ll get turned away at the door if you show up just hankering for a hot dog. But if the food court is located outside, all bets are off.


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?”

“I eat at the food court more then I would like too,” an Ontario-based Costco employee told Business Insider. “It’s so good! The cheapest menu I have ever seen. I love the pepperoni pizza. It’s very cheesy with nice and juicy, crispy pepperonis.”


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.

Some employees agree. One Costco employee told Business Insider that, “Costco needs vegetarian items in the food court.”

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 major price hike at the Costco food court.

In fact, the food court has charged $1.50 for their hot dog-soda combo order since 1985.

In the 2009 edition of Costco Connection, David Fuller, the assistant vice president of publishing, wrote that Costco kept its food court prices stable because they wanted to prove that “a business can operate on a fair markup and still pay all of its bills.”


… 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.


The cheese pizza includes over a pound of cheese

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Hollis Johnson

If you order a cheese pizza from the food court, you’ll really be getting your money’s worth of cheese.

Three Costco employees told Business Insider that a whole cheese pizza pie contains half a pound of cheese. Pepperoni and combo pizzas have less cheese, to make room for the toppings.


Employees think the food court is a good deal — and they have their own favorite orders

Among the 46 Costco employees that Business Insider got in contact with, pizza was far and away the most popular food court order. A total of 20 employees selected cheese, pepperoni, or combo pizza as their go-to choice.

The berry smoothie and classic $1.50 hot dog were also well-loved selections.

Four Costco employees said that the food court or items from the food court were the best deals in the whole store.

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