One of Costco's secret weapons is coming back

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a shortage of ketchup packets is impacting restaurants across the country. CNN's Tom Foreman reports.

Posted: Apr 8, 2021 3:31 PM
Updated: Apr 8, 2021 3:31 PM

Costco diehards, don't fret: The beloved food court, known for its $1.50 hot dog and soda combo and giant menu boards, is coming back to life, albeit slowly.

Costco shut down seating areas in food courts when the pandemic spread through the United States last March. It pared back the menu to hot dogs and pizza for takeout only.

Signs of life started to emerge in the summer when the chicken bake returned. Now, the return to normal is gaining steam. Costco recently began adding back ice cream and smoothies to the menu and is bringing back tables and chairs in stores that have outdoor seating areas. The company also is bringing back churros to the menu and plans to resume indoor seating as more states loosen Covid-19 safety restrictions.

Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti expects a full return for the food courts: "God willing. But it's going to take some time," he said in an interview Wednesday.

The company does not break out sales at food courts, but they are one of the perks that help persuade shoppers to dish out $60 or $120 for a Costco membership every year.

The food courts have gained a cult-like following over the years and become ingrained in pop culture. They have been referenced on TV shows like "Baskets" and "Modern Family." Bloggers track the menu closely, ranking their top choices and noting any changes.

"The food courts work. They're one of the things we're known for," Galanti said. "We're pleased that they're coming back."

'Known for that hot dog'

Food courts, anchored by the $1.50 hot dog-soda combo, are no gimmick at Costco.

The company sold 151 million hot dogs last year and hasn't raised the price in more than three decades.

"I know it sounds crazy making a big deal about a hot dog, but we spend a lot of time on it," Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal told The Seattle Times in 2009. "We're known for that hot dog. That's something you don't mess with."

Costco puts the food courts inside stores near the entrances. In warmer areas, like Arizona or Southern California, they are outside, near the front.

"We want to catch you either on the way in or out of your Costco shopping experience. You leave the food court satisfied," Galanti told CNN Business in a 2018 interview.

Stops at the food court get shoppers to hang around. That extra time increases the chance that they will make an unplanned purchase after they're finished with their food.

And for Costco members who don't want to spend money at the food court, there's hope: Costco is also slowly bringing back food samples— another perk for members—to stores. It's adding plexiglass stations at some stores where workers hand out prepared items like sandwiches, chips, cookies and crackers to customers one at a time.

Next, Costco will bring back cooked items for samples such as breakfast sandwiches, noodle dishes, and meatballs, Galanti said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
Grenada3707108
Stone360364
Tishomingo359792
Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 819597

Reported Deaths: 15406
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1147901924
Mobile725791338
Madison52306697
Shelby37597350
Baldwin37245552
Tuscaloosa35101612
Montgomery34106740
Lee23526246
Calhoun22225488
Morgan20941378
Etowah19825500
Marshall18361304
Houston17384412
St. Clair16054339
Cullman15443293
Limestone15343199
Elmore15241286
Lauderdale14302295
Talladega13836283
DeKalb12649261
Walker11202370
Blount10192176
Autauga10043148
Jackson9871184
Coffee9210191
Dale8897185
Colbert8860201
Tallapoosa7084198
Escambia6772134
Covington6712183
Chilton6641162
Russell636659
Franklin5959105
Chambers5607142
Marion5005127
Dallas4973200
Pike4795106
Clarke475584
Geneva4571127
Winston4516103
Lawrence4321117
Bibb425186
Barbour357776
Marengo338090
Monroe331464
Randolph329764
Butler326396
Pickens316284
Henry312666
Hale311388
Cherokee302860
Fayette292880
Washington251551
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234663
Lamar224147
Conecuh186153
Coosa180240
Lowndes175164
Wilcox168839
Bullock151644
Perry138840
Sumter133038
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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Clear cool and dry to begin your weekend, but both afternoons should be a little bit above what we expect for this time of year temperature wise. Rain chances begin to return late Sunday night, with at least two chances for storms over the next week, summer could be strong.
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