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Costco May Limit Access to Affordable Meals Based on Membership; Here's What Consumers Said

Costco mulls over making its food court exclusive to members, sparking discussion about its broader strategy and the iconic $1.50 hot dog combo.
Costco Wholesale store | Getty Images | Photo by Johnny Louis
Costco Wholesale store | Getty Images | Photo by Johnny Louis

Faced with inflation and higher costs of eating out, Americans have been looking for affordable meals and discounts at popular chains such as McDonald's. But Costco's food court, known for its budget-friendly $1.50 hot dogs and $1.99 pizza slices, may soon become exclusive to members only. The wholesale giant is reportedly considering implementing a policy that would require an active Costco membership card for purchasing items from its food court, starting from April 8, 2024. Earlier this month, the picture of a sign from an Orlando, Florida Costco went viral on social media, announcing the new membership requirement for food court purchases.

While there is no official confirmation from Costco regarding the widespread implementation of this policy, the signs suggest a potential shift in the retailer's approach to non-member access.

This isn't the first time Costco has attempted to limit non-member access to its food court. Similar reports had created a buzz back in February 2020, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has recently intensified efforts to prevent non-members from entering its stores, particularly by requiring membership IDs for access to self-checkout lanes.

Costco's rationale behind these measures lies in its belief that non-members should not receive the same benefits and pricing as members. The retailer asserts that its membership fees help offset operational expenses, allowing it to keep prices low for members. The potential shift in food court access aligns with Costco's broader strategy to incentivize membership enrollment. The company's annual membership fees contribute significantly to its revenue, with nearly 128 million members generating $4.6 billion in fees in 2023 alone. Costco offers various membership tiers, including the $60 Gold Star membership and the $120 Executive membership, which provides additional perks such as discounts on gas, travel, and insurance.

Unsplash | Photo by Marcus Reubenstein
Unsplash | Photo by Marcus Reubenstein

Reacting to this move by Costco, one user noted, "We needed a card to purchase food on the Big Island of Hawaii, but I thought it was because it was outside." Another user expressed approval, stating, "If that keeps the pizzas $10 I’m good with it." One user supported the idea if it contributed to faster-moving lines, and added, "If it makes the lines move faster I’m even more for it." Yet another user expressed surprise at the absence of prior restrictions and shared their perspective, suggesting, "You didn’t have to be before? That’s wild, mine is so busy I’d be a little miffed if 'interlopers' were there."

Unsplash | Photo by Grant Beirute
Unsplash | Photo by Grant Beirute

Many users also reminisced about the accessibility of Costco's affordable dining options for non-members, especially during financially constrained periods like college. Despite potential changes to food court access,Costco's iconic $1.50 hot dog combo remains on the menu. The company has steadfastly maintained this price point for years, even as other items in the store see price increases. To ensure the longevity of the $1.50 hot dog combo, Costco took matters into its own hands by establishing its hot dog manufacturing plant. This strategic move allows the company to maintain profitability while offering customers a beloved menu item at an unbeatable price.