How Costco’s Free Samples and Food Courts Are Changing

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A woman providing food samples Costco
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Everything is returning to normal in the U.S. — and that includes the Costco food court and the warehouse club’s in-store free sampling program.

During a recent quarterly earnings call, Richard Galanti — Costco director, executive vice president and chief financial officer — announced that the retailer is joining many other institutions in American life by returning to more of its pre-pandemic routine.

In particular, both food courts and free sampling soon will be breaking free of restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Food courts

After offering “severely limited” service and selection amid the worst of the pandemic last year, food courts will open in a bigger way soon, with tables and seating back at most locations by June 7, Galanti said. This builds on recent efforts to add back tables and seating at a handful of Costco locations across the country.

There will more physical separation than in the past, however, with tables of four instead of six or eight. Overall, seating capacity will be reduced by half compared with previous levels.

Costco also has begun offering more food items in recent months, and plans to have “new and improved” churros at all U.S. locations by July 4, Galanti said. “High-end” soft ice cream is replacing frozen yogurt.

Free sampling

Costco also is gradually returning to full free sampling. Last March, the retailer closed down its sampling operations before experimenting with a few sampling events — offering things like single-serve items such as cookies and crackers — in the summer and fall.

But now, Costco will expand its sampling menu in waves, Galanti said:

“I’m happy to report that over the next couple of weeks, we’re beginning a phased return to full sampling.”

During the first week of June, around 170 U.S. locations will return to full sampling. If the effort is successful, it would be rolled out to other U.S. locations later this month.

Costco notes that safety protocols will remain in place, such as all samples being prepared behind plexiglass, prepared in small batches and distributed to members one at a time.

Galanti says Costco will “see how it goes” after introducing these changes, which will be subject to additional state rules or restrictions.

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