In the proverbial question of the chicken or the egg, the operative word is or. One came first or the other came first – not both. Same with the game of chess; you choose to be the black or the white, not every piece on the board. And the song you selected this morning to begin your morning commute? It was one of your favorites, not two (unless you found a mashup). So it boggles my find to discover, at Costco of all places, you can have a hot dog and a soda… just not or. It’s food and drink – or it’s nothing at all.
It’s been a while since I’ve shopped at Costco, so last Sunday’s visit felt like more than just a battle for space in the aisles. Featured items seemed new and interesting and the free samples beckoned more than usual. My wife and I go to Costco for paper goods, produce, wine, and not much else, so we made it to check-out sooner than most, but there was still a pretty good line of people. While we waited, I realized Costco is savvy with its store layout. Approaching the cashier, you face… the food court. On this day, the court was b-u-s-y, with just about every seat taken.
I never ever patronize the food court at Costco (I like to think I lean healthier) but something triggered my brain this time around. Just after July 4th a local radio host commented how “Costco hot dogs are the best, and believe me, I know hot dogs.” Suddenly a Costco hot dog sounded pretty good! So I asked my wife to stay in line while I pursued our spur-of-the-moment lunch. A lot of people were standing by the counters (looking nothing like a line) and I realized they were already waiting for orders. You see, at Costco you self-order on a computer screen – just touch the picture of the food or drink you want and insert a credit card.
Pepperoni pizza. Hot turkey and provolone sandwich. “Chicken bake”. Caesar salad. Hot dog and a soda. Ice cream. Those are pretty much your choices at Costco. The menu isn’t big and it’s certainly not your dietician’s recommendation, but it’s what the average Costco patron wants. Just not this patron. Not quite.
You Costco regulars already know this. A hot dog and a 20 oz. soda at the food court is only $1.50. Always has been and purportedly always will be. But here’s the rub. The computer screen doesn’t offer a picture of a hot dog. You’ll only find a hot dog with a soda. But there’s also a soda without a hot dog. In what world of logic does this make sense? I want a hot dog, Costco sells hot dogs, but I can only have one if I buy a 20 oz. soda as well. But I don’t want a soda…
This quickly became a matter of principle (as you might expect). I mean, $1.50 is reasonable for a hot dog so why not just go for the combo and throw away the empty soda cup, right? Yeah, I wish it were that easy for me. I challenged a couple of Costco employees about it back in the checkout line, and both said, “That’s the way it’s always been. It’s a nod to tradition. They’ll never change the price and they’ll never unlink the hot dog and the soda”. When I pointed out that, hey, you could buy a soda on its own (but not a hot dog on its own), that made them pause. A little.
Scold me now, please. There’s a war going on in Eastern Europe. Food and gas prices are through the roof. The U.S. is experiencing one of its hottest summers in decades with states forced into rolling blackouts. Meanwhile, I’m pitching fits because I can’t buy a hot dog all by itself at Costco.
Fittingly, you get the last laugh. My wife and I pulled out of the Costco parking lot and still had a taste for a hot dog, and the only place we could think of was a little sports bar in my mother-in-law’s neighborhood. So we go there and I order a hot dog with fries while my wife opts for the bratwurst with Tater Tots. (and yes, for those of you keeping score I could’ve ordered this hot dog all by itself). Then the cashier rings up the order and says, “That’ll be $30.00” (not $1,50, not $3.00 – thirty bucks). And how was my hot dog? Delicious, actually. I’d have the same thing again nex time. I just need to stop thinking about how I could’ve had twenty Costco hot dogs (and a bunch of empty soda cups) for the same price.