Oh, Costco. My feelings for you are complicated. I always trick myself into thinking, “I’ll just get that one pack of paper towels we need for our two-person household,” then walk out with a cart full of Kirkland items and a wallet that’s suddenly much too light. In order to put a salve on my conscience, I usually stop at the food court for a cheap slice of pizza, a hot dog, or, if I’m feeling frisky, one of those weird chicken bakes. Weirdly, taking this opportunity to spend more money somehow makes me feel better about already having spent too much money at the wholesale giant.
But Costco’s been tinkering with its food court menu in recent months, and I’ve felt myself surprisingly conflicted about the changes being made to the food. I think I’ve finally figured out why.
One change has been undeniably positive: After disappearing during COVID, raw onions have returned to top Costco’s hot dogs. The onions are no longer served via those weird hand-cranked dispensers anymore, but rather in individual plastic cups you pick up at the counter. Still, it’s nice to have them back. But then the misfires started.
The company recently added a mango smoothie to the food court lineup, which has been getting dragged on social media for tasting “like baby food.” To its credit, the smoothie is vegan and contains no added sugar, but its color has been inconsistent and unappetizing and one user claimed that many of the smoothies have been returned for a refund at their location. “Its really that bad,” read one post.
Next came Costco’s new roast beef sandwiches, which cost a whopping $9.99. They contain roast beef, red onions, lettuce, roasted cherry tomatoes, onion relish, and a mustard-mayo blend, all on a ciabatta bun. And frankly, they’re not very good. If they were just a bland addition to the menu, that would be one thing. But the $9.99 cost is so high above every other Costco favorite (especially the $1.50 hot dog and soft drink combo) that it’s kind of a baffling choice.
Now, Costco has quietly debuted yet another item in the food court, and it’s one that leaves me puzzled.
Parade reports that Reddit posts from the Chicago area seemingly confirm that Costco will soon sell strawberry flavored soft serve in its food court. Now, strawberry ice cream is perfectly fine—that’s a crowd-pleaser, unlike the more divisive mango smoothie. But still, it’s hard not to ask: Why, Costco? Why is any of this happening?
Did we really need a new ice cream option in Costco’s famously bare-bones food court? I can’t imagine there’s been extraordinary demand for it—the most chatter I hear is about bringing things back that we already had, like the combo pizza slice, or even the turkey pesto sandwich. (See this Reddit thread for more items people want back on Costco’s food court menu.)
And why does it irk me so much that Costco would add something new? Isn’t it Costco’s right to experiment with new offerings? I mean, against my better judgment, I tend to get excited about new fast food concoctions, so why should I think about Costco’s food court any differently?
Ultimately, I think it comes down to Costco’s quiet consistency, which is what I and so many others love about it. Fast food chains are playgrounds of innovation, but grocery stores are stalwarts, our rock, and Costco is among the best. There’s no bullshit at this wholesaler’s food court: the items are (mostly) inexpensive, the menu is small and streamlined, and the quality is consistent from one item to the next (or one store to the next). In this way, it’s comfort food. When Costco disturbs the hallowed ground of comfort food by throwing seemingly random items haphazardly into the mix, it sends the message that the company’s relationship to our wallets is somehow not enough. When a $9.99 sandwich appears next to a $3.99 Chicken Bake, you can’t help but feel like the Chicken Bake’s days are numbered.
Strawberry ice cream is fine, I guess. But so help me, if they start letting us customize our own sundaes or something, we’ll know Costco has strayed too far from the bare-bones food court concept we know and love.