Members Only: Costco Tightens Rules Around Food Court Seating

By: Lauren | Published: Apr 06, 2024

Costco is undoubtedly one of America’s favorite stores. The giant warehouses sell everything from new electronics to fresh produce, family-sized boxes of snacks, and even clothes and workout equipment. 

For many, one of the best parts about shopping at Costco is eating in the food court. However, the membership-only warehouse has just announced that it is officially cracking down on who can eat at its beloved food courts. 

Costco’s New Food Court Rule

Over the past few weeks, signs have been popping up in Costco food courts all around the country that read: “An active Costco membership card will be required to purchase items from our food court.”

Sign from Costco food court explaining the new rules

Source: Reddit

Technically, this is not a new rule. But in recent years, Costco has not been enforcing it; members’ guests have been enjoying the warehouse’s affordable meals without purchasing a membership card. 


How Does Costco Work?

It’s crucial to know how Costco stores work first to fully understand how things have been running at Costco food courts versus how they will be functioning now. 

Person holds their Costco membership card outside in the parking lot of the store

Source: Shutterstock

Costco Wholesale isn’t like other big-box stores. To shop there, a person must purchase a membership card and pay annual dues. Every person who attempts to enter the store needs to first show their membership card and then produce the card again at checkout. 

How Do Non-Members Get Into Costco?

With these rules in place, it may seem impossible for someone without a membership to even make their way to the food court. However, there is a loophole in the system.

Aerial view of a busy Costco Wholesale warehouse

Source: Reddit

According to Costco’s official rules, “Anyone with a card can bring up to two guests [over the age of 16] to the Warehouse during each visit,” but “purchasing items is exclusive to Costco members.” However, food court employees have not been checking membership cards as they do at the checkout registers. 

Guests Will No Longer Be Able to Make Purchases at the Food Court

Now, with the change in policy, only the Costco card member will be able to purchase food for themselves and their guests at the store’s food court.

Costco food court menu with the famous hot dog, ice cream, pizza, chicken wing, and more

Source: Reddit

This may not seem like a significant change to the system. But it will be for many people, as it has become apparent to Costco that many of its food court customers were somehow getting into the store without a member in their party. 

What’s So Great About Costco’s Food Court?

The idea of sneaking into a warehouse food court may sound ridiculous, but it’s actually quite common practice simply because Costco’s food is cheaper (and many argue better) than every other fast food chain. 

Costco food court menu, including pizza, chicken bakes, peanut butter and jelly, and more

Source: Reddit

From pizza slices for just $1.89 to chicken bakes for only $3.99, a person could fill themselves for less than $5.00, something which is almost impossible anywhere else. 


The Famous Costco Hot Dog

In addition to the other popular menu items, the Costco hot dog has become famous throughout the country. 

The Costco hot dog, complete with relish, ketchup, mustard, and onions

Source: Reddit

For only $1.50, customers receive a ¼ lb. beef hot dog and a 20 oz. soda with a free refill. Not only is it the deal of the century, but almost every customer agrees that the hot dog is absolutely delicious.


Costco Isn’t Just Cracking Down on Food Court Customers

While Costco’s new signs announcing that non-members won’t be able to purchase the beloved hot dogs are making headlines, it’s not the only change for the store. 

Shoppers at Costco use the self-checkout registers

Source: Wiki Commons

Additionally, Costco announced that they will be ensuring every customer checking out, especially those at a self-checkout register, is using their own membership card. 


Costco Membership Cards Are Non-Transferable

When signing up for a Costco membership card, the applicant must show a valid photo ID issued by the United States, Canada, or their territories. These cards are non-transferable and can only be used by the person with an ID matching the name on the card. 

Costco cards alongside the Costco app, showing that each card belongs to an individual person


However, Costco noticed that many people were simply swiping a friend’s card at a self-checkout register. Now, the company says they will have employees at every register, ensuring the person using the card is, in fact, the Costco member. 


Why Does Costco Have So Many Rules?

Although it may seem like Costco has quite a lot of strict rules for a big-box store, the company claims these restrictions are absolutely necessary. 

A Walmart sign next to a sign for Costco Wholesale

Source: @Pulse/Linkedin

Anyone who has shopped at Costco knows how much cheaper their products are than those of other stores, such as Walmart or Target. As the company has explained, “[We are] able to keep our prices as low as possible because our membership fees help offset our operational expenses, making our membership fee and structure important to us.”


Costco Says Enforcing These Rules Will Keep Its Prices as Low as Possible

Essentially, Costco is arguing that it must enforce these membership rules to keep its prices as low as possible for customers.

Exterior of a Costco Wholesale store at dusk

Source: iStock

The company also believes it would be doing a disservice to its 64 million members if it were to allow non-members to sneak through self-checkout or enjoy one of its coveted $1.50 hot dogs. A Costco spokesperson said, “We don’t feel it’s right that non-members receive the same benefits and pricing as our members.”


It May Be Worth Getting a Costco Membership

Costco is certainly hard at work trying to keep its prices exceptionally low, even as the cost of living skyrockets across the country. In fact, in 2022, Costco committed to keeping the hot dog combo under $2 “possibly forever.”

Screenshot from explaining the store’s membership options


The basic Gold Star Membership program is currently $60 a year, and it includes two membership cards for you and someone else in your family. So, if you just replace one meal a week with a hot dog from the food court, you could make your money back in only a month.