Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (2024)

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Lacey Muszynski

Lacey Muszynski is a staff writer at Cheapism covering food, travel, and more. She has over 15 years of writing and editing experience, and her restaurant reviews and recipes have previously appeared in Serious Eats, Thrillist, and countless publications in her home state of Wisconsin.

Lacey Muszynski
Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (1)


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Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (2)

Cafe Face Off

If there's one food Costco is known for — besides $5 rotisserie chickens — it's its hot dog combo. The Costco cafe at the front of the store has been selling the combo for $1.50 since 1985;it will stay at that price "forever,"according to Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti. But other food court items are fair game: Costco raised the priceof two staples in July 2022, including the famous chicken bake.

Costco's biggest competitor also has a food court. The Sam's Clubcafe menu and prices almost mirrors Costco's. So which of the cafes has the better deal, and which one has better food? I went to both — and ate a lot — to find out which has the best menu items.

Prices and availability are subject to change. Food court menu and experience may vary by location.This story was updated in November 2023.

Related: Things You Should Never Buy at Costco, Sam's, or BJ's

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (3)

Sam's Club: Ordering

Rating:6 out of 10
In order to get any of that Sam's Clubcafemenu goodness, you need to order first. At Sam's Club, that means ordering at the counter, or ordering on the Sam's Club mobile app, just like the beloved Scan-and-Go feature. Lines can be long, so mobile ordering is the preferred way to get your fast food.

Related: Don't Miss These Perks of Costco and Sam's Club Membership

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (4)

Costco: Ordering

Rating:8 out of 10
The typical ordering counter has been replaced by self-serve ordering kiosks at many locations due to the pandemic. This cuts down on the number of employees that are needed and unnecessary contact between people, and because there are four stations there's never a line. Your receipt will have your number on it, which will then be called by the employee who gathered your items at the counter. It's efficient and simple, but if you have any kind of special request or question, it can become cumbersome.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (5)

Sam's Club: Hot Dog Combo

Price: $1.38
Rating:4 out of 10
At Sam's Club, the only way to buy a hot dog is to order the hot dog combo that comes with a fountain drink. If you don't want a drink, it's the same price. But for less than a buck and a half, no one's really complaining. The hot dog is all beef, and it's hefty. It had a sickly, off-putting color, but the meat was juicy once you took a bite. The dry bun inexplicably stuck like glue to the too-mushy dog. Will it fill you up? Yes. Will you want another one? No. At least it's cheaper than Costco's dog.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (6)

Costco: Hot Dog Combo

Price: $1.50
Rating:7 out of 10
The frank at Costco also comes with a fountain beverage whether you want one or not. It's a quarter-pound of beef, and the brick red wiener overhangs the bun a little on both sides. It's juicy and flavorful, and reminiscent of the best hot dog served at a baseball game. Steaming helps keep the bun from drying out and the slits cut into the bun before baking give the illusion that someone somewhere cares about this cheap hot dog, which Costco says will remain at $1.50 "forever."

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (7)

Sam's Club: Condiments

Rating:6 out of 10
The condiments at Sam's Club food court were makeshift. I assume it has something to do with availability or manpower, but I didn't ask why there were no commercial condiment dispensers. Instead, there was a nice, handwritten sign with a smiley face on it, plus a few bottles of Heinz ketchup, mustard, and relish. Whatever — it worked just fine. Bonus point for the red pepper flake packets for pizza.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (8)

Costco: Condiments

Rating:5 out of 10
You'd think that the commercial condiment dispensers at Costco would be better than the piecemeal situation at Sam's Club, but the little pool that's dripped under each condiment is pretty gross. There's also more mustard than ketchup, which feels silly given that Costco axed the more sophisticated Polish dog. Also missed dearly by many is the fresh chopped onion dispenser, though you can at least get a little cup of onions if you ask for it at the counter. Still, for topping hot dogs, the condiment situation here is fine.

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Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (11)

Sam's Club: Pizza

Price: $2.50
Rating:5 out of 10
There is one thing this slice doesn't lack and that's toppings. There's a lot of melty cheese and a ton of all the meats, which are predictably greasy but also full of flavor, especially the Italian sausage and bacon. What this slice does lack is structure. The crust feels deflated like a popped balloon, and it may as well be nonexistent for all the stability it provides. Despite being messy and difficult to eat, it hits all those dried herb pizza notes. Even bad pizza can only be so bad, yah know?

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (12)

Costco: Pizza

Price: $1.99
Rating:9 out of 10
After having Sam's Club's pizza, this slice feels like a revelation. The crust is puffy and chewy, and while it sags when you pick it up, it doesn't collapse. It's baked long enough to get some nice charring around the crust and on the cheese for some contrast in flavor and texture.

Though it's just pepperoni — there's only cheese or pepperoni to choose from now, much to the dismay of combo slice fans — there's a lot of grease, which may be a turn off for some, but not me. This is the pizza Little Caesars dreams of being.

You can also order a whole pizza to go for $10, and that's the best deal at Costco.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (13)

Sam's Club: Churro

Price: $1
Rating:7 out of 10
Like everything else at these warehouse stores, the churros are big — practically the length of your forearm. They are baked instead of fried since there are no deep fryers at Sam's Club cafes, which isn't great for their texture, but is probably better for your diet. I got these churros fresh out of the oven, and while the cinnamon sugar application was spotty, they nailed the crunchy exterior and custard-like, doughy center that's the hallmark of a good churro perfectly.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (14)

Costco: Twisted Churro

Price: $1.49
Rating:4 out of 10
The churro at Costco was a looker with its twisted cinnamon and vanilla dough, but it suffered from being stored in the holding warmer for too long. It was stale and dried out, though there was an abundance of cinnamon sugar. I missed the contrast between the soft inside and crisp outside. This is one of those things you have to eat fresh, though it's worth the gamble to order it.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (15)

Sam's Club: Berry Sundae

Price: $1.58
Rating:10 out of 10
The berry sundae is the perfect sweet treat of the Sam's Club menu. It's made with vanilla frozen yogurt, though you can ask for chocolate or swirl, plus a berry sauce of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. You could put those summery, syrupy berries on a shoe and it'd taste great. It's full of whole berries and there's plenty of it to flavor the yogurt, which is thick and creamy. The curved lid in order to fill the entire thing is a nice touch, especially given how cheap this treat is.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (16)

Costco: Berry Sundae

Price: $2.49
Rating:7 out of 10
There's only one berry to be found in Costco's berry sundae and that's strawberry. Those other three berries in Sam's Club's sundae are missed when you compare them side-by-side. But the strawberry sauce has chunks of fruit and a bright flavor, making this one delicious — just not as delicious. The soft serve was too soft, the cup wasn't as full, and the price was higher, but it's still a solid dessert even if it's missing that wow factor.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (17)

Sam's Club: Soda

Price:89 cents for 30 ounces
Rating:10 out of 10
Just look at all those fountain options — there's even a Sam's Club-only Mountain Dew flavor in regular and diet. There are at least 16 different soft drink choices and three different kinds of brewed iced tea for a veritable beverage buffet. People who avoid sugar or caffeine will love the selection. Plus, Icees are available at the same price, though those don't come with free refills.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (18)

Costco: Soda

Price:69 cents for 20 ounces
Rating:2 out of 10
Costco just raised the price of its refillable sodas by 10 cents, which isn't a welcome change considering the beverage selection at Costco is pathetic. There are five options: Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Sierra Mist, Mountain Dew, and Tropicana Lemonade. That means only one diet option, and two without caffeine.

Although there are more drink options listed on the sign on the fountain dispenser, I've never seen them available in a Costco. The store gets one extra point for offering smoothies and a cold brew mocha freeze, but they're $3.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (19)

Sam's Club: Pretzel

Price: $1
Rating:3 out of 10
The menus at both stores' cafes are pared down thanks to the pandemic, so they don't match like they used to. In order to compare the other main items, I decided on a wildcard round. At Sam's, the other hot item is soft pretzels. You have the option of butter and salt or butter and cinnamon sugar, and since I was also getting a churro, went the salt route.

The sheen of oily butter looked lovely, but it was hard to make up for the fact that the pretzel was dried out and even crunchy on one edge. It also lacked that well-done pretzel flavor. If you must have a pretzel, I suggest trying the pizza pretzel where they put cheese and pepperoni on it and send it through the oven.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (20)

Costco: Chicken Bake

Price: $3.99
Rating:5 out of 10
The wild-card item at Costco is the much loved chicken bake. The company raised its price 33%, so you'll be paying $4 instead of $3. Think of it like a giant Hot Pocket filled with chicken, bacon, cheese, and Caesar dressing. Between the bacon and the dressing, I expected a punch of flavor, but the filling was pretty bland, though creamy and comforting.

The real star was the outside with its copious amounts of shredded cheese baked into crunchy, caramelized goodness. If you're already a fan of the chicken bake, you probably won't mind paying the extra buck, but if it doesn't sound like your jam, just skip it for that price.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (21)

Overall Winner: Costco

Costco took home the win in all the main warehouse store food groups: hot dogs, pizza, and savory baked item. That's enough to secure an overall win against Sam's Club's cafe, despite recent price increases on the chicken bake and drinks, inferior desserts, and a dismal beverage situation. If you're looking for a quality, inexpensive lunch or snack, always choose Costco's food court over Sam's Club — unless what you really want is a berry sundae.

Related: I Joined Costco. Here's What I Wasn't Expecting

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Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe (2024)


Does Costco or Sam's Club have better food? ›

Taste can be subjective, but based on popular opinion, Costco tends to have better-tasting food court items than Sam's Club. Many people rave about Costco's pizza and its hot dogs are also a fan favorite. Sam's Club's food court items, while still tasty, don't seem to have the same level of hype as Costco's.

Why are Costco food court prices so cheap? ›

Costco has increased prices of pizzas and other items at its food courts. But Costco has a unique business model that allows it to keep prices low: It makes almost all of its money on memberships, selling items on its warehouse floor very nearly at cost – and sometimes less.

Does Costco make money on their food court? ›

Some commentators and employees have called the hot dog a loss leader, drawing in enough customers to compensate for lost profits. Costco CFO Richard Galanti did not directly confirm or deny this theory, but commented that "Needless to say we aren't making a lot or any" profit on food court products.

Why do people choose Costco over Sam's Club? ›

Better shopping experience

Costco shoppers find that their local stores are more open with higher ceilings and better lighting compared to Sam's Club stores. There is also more space for navigating aisles and finding additional items.

Which has more organic food Costco or Sam's Club? ›

Organic items: Costco comes out on top for greater visibility of organic items, especially in its Kirkland Signature branded products. Sam's Club is making a push towards offering more organic and sustainable products.

Is Sam's Club pizza frozen or fresh? ›

All our pizzas are made by hand each morning, because that is how you make the best quality pizzas. Sometimes life does not allow you the time to make a homecooked meal, so we do it for you. Made fresh in Club, our 16" whole hot baked pizza with real mozzarella cheese is a mouthwatering family favorite.

Why does Costco pizza taste so good? ›

It's the cheese! Costco's pizza recipe calls for 1½ pounds of cheese — a combination of mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone. That incredibly thick layer of cheese guarantees its delicious pizza will have you so eager for a pie that you'll want to use the Costco hack that lets you skip the long food court line.

Which pizza chain is doing the best? ›

2022 RankCompany2022 US Systemwide Sales Millions
2Pizza Hut5500
3Papa Johns3698
4Little Caesars*3520
2 more rows
Aug 1, 2023

Why do people love Costco food court? ›

The Costco food court offers quick, low-cost meals with friendly service. The dietary options are not diverse and the nutrition levels aren't likely to be as good as what you could cook at home, but for hungry people on the go, the Costco food court is a cheap meal solution that's worth considering.

Can non Costco members buy food court? ›

You'll need a Costco membership if you want to use the food court.

Do they ask for Costco card at food court? ›

While Costco officially restricted food court access to members in 2020, the newly posted signs detailing store policy suggest tougher enforcement is needed. "Effective April 8, 2024, an active Costco membership card will be required to purchase items from our food court.

What does Costco do with leftover food from food court? ›

Thankfully, there is a massive donation program for leftover food court items that gets gifted to local community pantries or homeless shelters.

What is Costco's most profitable item? ›

Toilet paper

Yes, that's right! Costco's best-selling item is its Kirkland Signature Bath Tissue. It sells more than a billion rolls every year, bringing in over $400 million dollars in revenue. Costco's toilet paper is thicker and more absorbent than most other brands.

Who makes Costco hotdogs? ›

To keep the costs low, the warehouse decided to make their own franks. Now there are several Costco-owned meat processing facilities that supply the warehouses with hot dogs, hamburgers, and other Kirkland brand meat products.

Which gas is better Costco or Sam's Club? ›

While both Costco and Sam's Club offer unleaded, premium, and diesel fuels (here's how to know which you should be getting), only Costco offers Top Tier fuel. If you don't have a Costco membership, you can still find Top Tier gas at other stations. “Yes, Top Tier gas is worth the extra money,” CarFax reported.

Does Costco treat their employees better than Sam's Club? ›

Across the board, Costco employees report greater job satisfaction than their Sam's Club counterparts. Costco has long paid employees more than Sam's Club. Ultimately, a happy employee is far more likely to become a longtime employee.

Why is Costco the best grocery store? ›

It is the perfect place for shoppers seeking affordability, convenience and an unmatched shopping experience. Costco's sheer affordability is truly unparalleled. The store's bulk-buying model allows customers to access products at prices that often seem too good to be true.

Is Sam's Club worth it if you have Costco? ›

Technically, you could make the argument that there's value in joining two warehouse clubs at the same time. That's because the inventory you'll find at Costco differs from that at Sam's Club. But for the typical consumer, two warehouse club memberships probably don't make financial sense.

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