The Biggest Costco Food Court Scandals We Could Find

Costco's food court is one of the main features that draw shoppers to this membership-only wholesaler. Many Costco shoppers consider being able to scarf down a value-priced hot dog or a massive slice of pizza while they shop as one of the perks that justify the store's yearly membership. So naturally, consumer backlash is common any time the Costco corporation makes even a minor change to the services of the food court.

Costco memberships start at $60 a year, and customers rely on getting a dependable discount on their favorite food court items to get their money's worth on their upfront investment. And if there's anything you can assume about Costco shoppers it is that they are motivated by saving money. Let's talk about some of the most controversial Costco food court developments that scandalized paying customers. From discontinued favorites to CEO outbursts, there have been many unusual occasions where Costco's brand suffered due to the operation of its food court.

The food court is no longer open to non-members

While shopping at Costco stores has always required a membership, certain services at the store have been historically open to the public. These include the pharmacy, the alcohol department (in select states), and the food court. However, as of March 16, 2020, the store's corporate policy now requires you to have an active Costco membership in order to dine at the food court.

Apparently, eating at the food court has always technically required a membership even though the company had not previously enforced this policy. To make the matter even more confusing, some Costco locations still aren't enforcing the members-only protocol to this date. A customer-service associate at an East Coast Costco noted that some stores have become laxer on the policy when responding to an inquiry from Business Insider.

While this is an issue that primarily affects non-members, it also inconveniences members since they now have to keep their Costco cards on them even when they don't plan on going into the store that day. Previously, anyone could walk up to one of the indoor or outdoor food court locations and place an order, but now some locations will ask to scan your membership card before serving you. The one saving grace for members is that the lines may be just a bit shorter without non-member customers patronizing the food court.

The Polish dog was removed from its menu

While the cheap hot dog and drink combo has been a staple of the Costco food court since the first Costco hot dog stand opened in 1984, its beloved counterpart, the Polish dog, has not had the same staying power. It is unclear when the Polish dog was first added to the menu but both styles of sausage were available until 2018 when the company first announced that the Polish dog was getting the ax. The news was poorly received by the public.

This menu change came partially out of an attempt to create a healthier menu. Costco tried to fill the gap with healthy items like an açaí bowl and a plant-based protein salad but both of these items have since been discontinued just like the Polish dog.

Considering that the only two differences between the hot dog and the Polish dog were that the latter had a slightly different spice mix and a more kielbasa-like shape, it is somewhat surprising that the general public was so outraged by its retirement. But Costco seems to cause controversy every time it removes an item from its limited menu.

It replaced Coke with Pepsi in its soda fountains

Few food feuds run as deep as the controversy between Coke and Pepsi loyalists. That is why there was proverbial blood in the streets when Pepsi replaced Coca-Cola as Costco's primary beverage vendor. Former Costco VP of food services Alan Bubitz noted at the time that "the change was made in order to protect the integrity of the price point" but this didn't stop diehard Coca-Cola enthusiasts from taking up arms on social media (via The World).

Twitter user @PhilipAndreJr wrote, "Still can't forgive Costco for taking Coke out of the food court and replacing it with Pepsi. I don't think I ever will." @ScottSwezey wrote, "#Costco now has #Pepsi in the food court. What gives, Costco? Please, stick with #Coke." Of course, you can also find plenty of examples applauding the change, even if some seem sarcastic. Twitter user @eisbadatlife wrote, "The CDC says Pepsi is better and Costco made the right choice."

At the end of the day, the issue probably didn't deter many customers from continuing to order the hot dog and drink combo, as it is a great deal even if you throw your beverage cup right in the trash. But again, it is warranted for the fee-paying Costco members to be outraged when they can no longer guzzle their soft drink of choice while they shop in the warehouse.

It released a $9.99 roast beef sandwich

When Costco first released its roast beef sandwich in February 2023, people were livid about the price. Although a $10 sandwich wouldn't be a scandal at an ordinary restaurant, it was considered one here by many customers because of just how poorly the sandwich's price compares to other items on the menu.

The only item on the Costco food court menu that compares in price to the roast beef sandwich is a whole 18-inch pizza. And considering the pizza could reasonably feed a family of four, the math definitely doesn't add up on the Costco roast beef sandwich's price tag. $10 is enough to buy six hot dog and drink combos with change back.

Costco charged lower prices for comparable roast beef sandwiches in its Japanese and Korean locations. This further exacerbated the feeling customers had that they were being insulted by the uncharacteristically high price of this new menu item. And the pièce de résistance? The sandwich was served cold so it required even less prep time than other options. Costco's roast beef sandwich might just go down as the least popular food court item in history.

It has never offered delivery or online pizza orders

Although Costco is one of the largest pizza chains in the nation by the number of pizzas sold, it has never offered delivery or online orders outside of select locations. Not only does this come as a surprise to some members but it's also annoying. Every other national pizza chain from Domino's to Little Caesars to Round Table has online ordering capabilities. Even Papa Murphy's offers delivery and its pizzas are branded as take-and-bake. So what is the reason for this policy?

While we bet online ordering or delivery from Costco would be popular, a full-on pizza chain model does not align with the tradition of simplicity that comes from the food court. Additionally, the food court is not staffed to the point where it could handle a sudden influx of orders from a combination of in-person, over-the-phone, and online customers. Yet this doesn't stop Costco members from continuing to want this service.

A debate about the hot dog's price almost ended in bloodshed

As essential as the $1.50 hot dog and drink combo is to the Costco food court's identity, it has come under fire from corporate executives for costing the company money. But never was the debate quite as heated as when former CEO Jim Sinegal laid down the law to then-Costco president Craig Jelinek.

Jelinek detailed the exchange in a speech to his local chamber of commerce in 2018. As reported by Snopes, Jelinek drew the former CEO's ire when he said in a meeting, "Jim, we can't sell this hot dog for a buck fifty. We are losing our rear ends." This prompted a now iconic response from Sinegal: "If you raise the effing hot dog, I will kill you. Figure it out." Without having been there for the exchange, it is hard to say what kind of tone Sinegal used when he made this threat. But it sure doesn't sound good on paper. If this comment had reached the public while Sinegal was still the CEO, it quite possibly could have cost him his job.

Then again, some of Costco's more macabre members support the way this CEO stood up for this consumer-friendly pricing strategy. Twitter users like @Andrew___Morris and @MakoFukasameTV idolize this threat as a pro-consumer move. And don't forget that Sinegal's comment worked. Jelinek became Costco's CEO in 2012 and still has not raised the price of Costco's most iconic menu item.

It took away the combo pizza

Although pizza is one of the most popular offerings at the Costco food court, the eatery is far from a bona fide pizzeria. At its peak, the company only ever offered four types of pizza: cheese, pepperoni, veggie, and combo. So naturally, shoppers responded with outrage when Costco discontinued the combo pizza. After all, it was the premium option among the available styles and was available for the same price as the other two remaining flavors (cheese and pepperoni). 

The backlash from customers has taken many forms, including a petition to beg for its return and social media uproar like this heavily retweeted post. Yes, this type of controversy happens every time an item is removed from Costco's menu, but customers felt particularly scandalized by the removal of the combo pizza because of its massive popularity. The reaction to its discontinuation might even eclipse that of the Polish dog.

Costco originally removed the combo pizza in March 2020 citing COVID supply chain issues. However, even as other items that were discontinued in 2020 have made their return, the combo pizza appears to be permanently sacked. And unfortunately, it just makes sense from a business standpoint. After all, nothing else in the food court requires bell peppers, onions, olives, sausage, or mushrooms, all of which were being sourced for combo pizza at no additional cost to the consumer.

It tried to remove the diced onion dispenser

How do you make customers more upset than you would by removing their favorite menu item? Remove their favorite free toppings. Costco removed its raw diced onion dispensers around stores nationwide during the pandemic in an attempt to streamline its sourcing and reduce food waste during a time when its food courts were operating in a highly limited capacity. But as the urgency around the pandemic subsided, fans had to kick and scream to ensure their return.

Thankfully, diced onion fans got what they wanted and the diced onion hiatus came to an end after three years — two years longer than in-store samples took to return. Consider it a happy ending because Costco had an obvious financial interest in no longer offering this complimentary topping. In an alternate timeline, the world is still devoid of Costco diced onions. It was that close to happening.

So while this scandal did not have the longevity of other menu item discontinuations, it had a particularly strong psychological impact on members. They felt that the removal of a free service marginalized the value of their annual membership. And clearly, Costco executives recognized that members felt that the onions were important.

The food court lines used to be way too long

Three things come to mind when picturing the Costco food court: its oversized picture menu board, its iconic red-and-white tables, and its long line of hungry customers. In spite of the company's recent efforts to combat long wait times at their stores, the long line has become an enduring aspect of the company's public image.

On social media, you'll find countless examples of members' queue-based qualms. Sights like this one photographed by @KyleCoates are all too common. Twitter user @Bobbycressey documented one line with over twenty-five people in it. And to make matters worse, the wait is usually longer than you would think because other customers are ordering over the phone and at the grocery checkout line.

Thankfully, Costco has deployed automated ordering kiosks to minimize the inefficiency that came from employees both taking and fulfilling orders simultaneously. The initiative started in 2018 and ramped up rapidly following the pandemic. And for the most part, they have helped to speed things up somewhat. But the food court has always been too popular for its own good. If it's any consolation (it's not), the lines are still equally long at the grocery checkout, gas station, and tire center.