Why It's Better To Go To Costco's Food Court When The Line Is Long

Costco shoppers are a devoted bunch, especially those who frequent their local store's food court. Just as the warehouse chain's groceries are great bargains, many of its food court items are cheaper than what you can get at fast food restaurants. Costco's hot dog combo, which includes a 20-ounce refillable soda, costs a mere $1.50, the same price that it debuted at back in 1985. Then there's the option of a 18-inch pizza with your choice of cheese or pepperoni, sold at just $9.95. The downside is that along with these crowd-pleasing deals come, well, crowds. 

Not unlike the throngs that gather in wait to hear the Costco rotisserie chicken bell chime, you might find exceedingly long lines at your local store's food court. Customers will sometimes wait upwards of half an hour for their hot pizza to be ready. Is it worth lining up when you can barely push your cart through the chaos? To some smart shoppers, the answer is yes. If you have time to spare and want the best meal possible, it's actually better to go to the food court when it's really busy, because that's when the food will be at its freshest. More shoppers buying more food equals a higher turnover, as the staff needs to keep cooking and putting out the fresh stuff.

How to cut down on your wait time at the Costco food court

It's usually a good idea to shop at Costco at slower times, when your store is likely less crowded, but this isn't true if you want to pick up a hot pizza or chicken bake. When business is slow at the food court, pre-made items end up languishing under the heat lamps until someone finally buys them. Knowing this, it's a bit more tolerable to deal with the hordes of folks waiting in line.

Thankfully, you can follow a few pointers to make even the longest food court lines less daunting, and your wait time shorter. One tip is to use Costco's self-service kiosks to place your order, where you can pay in advance with a credit card. Your name will be called when your food is ready — just head straight for the pick-up window and show your receipt. You won't have to wait in line just to place an order.

Alternatively, you can skip the kiosk and place your order directly with a checkout cashier while paying for your regular shopping. They'll combine both of the bills and transmit your order to the food court for you. An even littler-known fact is that you can call in to your local store to order pizza. You can do this at the start of your shopping visit (it will be timed to be ready when you're done) or just drive over to pick it up as take-out. 

Costco's food court is becoming members only

Costco food court fans should be aware of a few changes in 2024, some of which have already happened and others that are coming up. In March, Costco nixed its $9.99 roast beef sandwiches and replaced them with less expensive turkey sandwiches, priced $6.99. This comes on the heels of another menu switch. In January, the company dropped its churros in favor of a double chocolate chunk cookie. This cookie costs a dollar more than a churro at $2.49, but at least it's served warm.

An even bigger change will likely have an effect on the length of food court lines. Starting in April 2024, Costco will begin requiring proof of membership in order to access its food court. The company has always followed a club-structured business model that charges a yearly fee. In the past, members only had to show their membership cards when paying in-store, but many locations now check for cards at entry. At one time, both members and non-members could eat from the food court, but the service will soon be available for members only.

Ostensibly, this change will result in shorter lines and more open tables, as non-members may not be willing to shell out the cost of a membership card — $60 to $120 annually — just to buy those inimitably delicious Costco hot dogs. Only time will tell if those long lines will stick around.