Costco Food Courts Go Behind A Paywall March 16th: So Long Cheap Hotdogs, Non-Members
If you're not familiar with how Costco food courts work compared to, say, a 1990s mall food court, it's essentially a bunch of food you can buy inside but actually cooked and sold to entice people to buy it inside. And instead of the pizza being Sbarro-quality, it's actually pretty darn good. The food courts also serve as a bit of a loss leader, encouraging you to purchase the pizzas and hot dogs and sandwiches inside the store.
The issue with Costco itself is that it's members-only inside. You've gotta pay for an annual membership in order to shop there, and the membership price is often negligible because of the savings members experience throughout the year. However, the prices on many things inside only become worth it because you're buying in bulk. This makes sense for, say, families trying to get diapers for their little ones on the cheap. It makes little to no sense for college students, single people in their 20s, senior citizens, or even fresh empty nesters -- all of whom can't consume food purchased in bulk fast enough before the expiration dates. Those are three of the biggest demographics out there.
Now, it seems, Costco is going to put its food courts behind a paywall beginning, apparently, March 16, 2020. And like, on a surface level, we get it. They already require a membership to purchase gas at their cheaper prices (if you're willing to wait 45 minutes behind the line of other vehicles trying to do the same thing). The rollout will take some time and vary by location, however. Some food courts are already behind the member gates and won't be affected, because this has technically been a rule on the books for some time now.
But what makes this all more than a little sad is that there are memories attached to those food courts for a lot of us. Growing up, soccer teams would have a pizza party at the end of the season there. It was a great place for cute and simple summer dates as teenagers, where you could get ice creams, sodas, and hot dogs for two for just a few bucks. The chicken bakes are an unholy comfort food that feel like heaven in the middle of a bad breakup or during some other time of grief. Grandparents could take their grandkids there for a fun and cheap light lunch that mom couldn't really get upset about.
This won't be the end of the story. The nonmembers hitting up the Costco food court aren't gonna start paying $60 a year just to eat there -- by and large, they're gonna just stop going. And while Costco may see some light profit margin increases, there's probably not going to be much of a change in the in-store purchasing happening because of this members-only switch. It's not our place to figure out the finances, but if a change this drastic is happening nationwide, there's gotta be something else that eases the blow, whether that's a membership cost reduction or a different solution. Heck, people honestly probably wouldn't have even noticed if they'd just jacked the price of the hot dog and soda combo up by $1. And do y'all know what the profit margin is on a pizza at any other pizza place in America? They could've upped that by a buck or two per pie and been just fine. Now, we'll just have to see what this new landscape looks like come March 16.