Getting a table at the Costco food court is about to become harder than at a Michelin-starred restaurant. In recent months, Costco has taken a more drastic approach to ensuring only actual members can get all those sweet, sweet perks.

And now, Costco is aiming at freeloaders hoping to snag a $1.50 hot dog at the food court sans membership card. As The Takeout notes, accessing the Costco food court always technically required a membership, but it was a rule rarely enforced in many locations.

Costco Cracks Down on Food Court Freeloaders

Costco is putting its foot down on non-members taking advantage of the cheap eats at its food courts.

Source: Flickr/m01229

The company has started enforcing a rule that’s been on the books for years but rarely implemented, you need an active membership to buy food court items.

Announcement of The New Rules

Last month, a customer in Orlando, Florida, spotted a sign announcing that starting April 8, 2024, “an active Costco membership card will be required to purchase items from our food court.”

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While the $1.50 hot dogs and $2 slices of pizza have always been intended as a members-only perk, many locations looked the other way when non-members wandered in to indulge.

New Policy Requires Active Membership for Food Purchases

While the food courts were technically only for members, the rule was rarely enforced in the past. However, Costco seems to now be taking a stricter approach to ensure only members can access the perks of membership.

Source: Flickr/Danny Choo

Starting on April 8, 2024, shoppers will need to flash a membership card to grab one of Costco’s $1.50 hot dogs or chicken bakes.

The Policy Is Not About Losing Money

The new policy likely isn’t about Costco losing money on their food court items, which are already sold at a loss.

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According to CFO Richard Galanti, the company has been able to maintain the $1.50 hot dog and soda price for decades by leveraging profits from other areas of business. The food courts actually act as a way to draw shoppers in and keep them sticking around.

Mandatory Memberships Mean Big Profits

Requiring memberships for food court access is really about boosting membership sign-ups, which are hugely profitable for Costco.

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Membership fees generated over $4.5 billion in profit for Costco’s 2023 fiscal year, up from $3.8 billion the previous year.

Food Court Access Has Always Required Membership

Food court access at Costco has technically always required an active membership, but this rule was rarely enforced at most locations.

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However, Costco appears to be cracking down on non-members taking advantage of the food court perks.

A Deal For Costco Fans and Members

For dedicated Costco fans, an annual membership is a steal that provides access to the warehouse retailer’s affordable groceries and goods.

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Costco’s uncannily affordable food court options have become the stuff of legend, but it seems the days of non-members sneaking in for a quick bite may be coming to an end.

Membership Fees Fund Bargains

While the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo seems like a loss leader, Costco can afford to keep prices low indefinitely thanks to the increasing profits from membership fees.

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An annual Gold Star membership costs $60, a price that hasn’t changed since 2017. With many members renewing year after year, these fees provide a stable source of income Costco can rely on to balance out lower-margin areas like the food court.

Perks to Please Exclusive Costco Members

Between the bargain prices, high-quality products, and popular food court, Costco works hard to please members and keep them coming back.

Source: Flickr/Mark Mathosian

The company’s cult following shows that this strategy is working. By making the food court a members-only benefit, Costco is giving shoppers one more reason to sign up.

Access to Deals and Bulk Items

Costco members can access the retailer’s famous deals on everything from rotisserie chickens to diamonds.

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The stores are a haven for people looking to save money by buying in bulk. Members stock up on snacks, meats, and household supplies to last for weeks or months.

Costco Membership is a Status Symbol

In some circles, being a Costco member is considered a subtle status symbol. The membership signals you have the means to pay for a membership and the space to store bulk items.

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Casually mentioning you picked up a new TV or piece of jewelry at Costco in conversation with friends can be a humble brag.

Consider Finally Signing Up for a Membership

While non-members may miss taking advantage of the food court, Costco’s new policy aims to benefit members.

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By limiting the food court to members only, Costco can avoid overcrowding and ensure faster service. Members have paid for the privilege of access, after all.

A Disappointment For Some But a Big Win For Members and The Company

While new rules may disappoint some, a Costco membership offers significant savings for those willing to pay the small annual fee.

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For anyone uncertain about committing to a membership, a single trip to Costco to price-check staples like meats, produce, and packaged goods may convince you of the value.

Costco Taking A Stand Against Free Loaders

Costco cracking down on food court freeloaders makes total sense when looking at the bigger picture. While it might seem petty to kick out shoppers just trying to grab a quick bite, this policy change likely isn’t about penny-pinching on cheap hot dogs.

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Rather, it is a savvy strategy to boost Costco’s insanely profitable membership program. So, for shoppers who want to keep access to food court deals and perks, it is a no-brainer to finally invest in a membership.