Paper or plastic? Netflix or Hulu? Red or green? (Chile sauce … it’s a New Mexico thing.) These are just a few of the many questions whose answers seem to define our place in 21st-century America. Add to the list one more query that may have its strong partisans on either side, but still finds many in the middle, unsure of what choice to make: Sam’s Club or Costco? For many of us, the choice between the two pay-to-shop big box stores comes down to one extremely important issue: which food court do you prefer?
Whether you are currently on the horns of the major choose-your-store dilemma (since nobody wants to fork out over $100 to belong to both), a Costco member pondering switching sides, or perhaps even a Sam’s Club shopper who’s yet to make the most of your membership, here’s some insight that might help you make the right decision (which, at the Sam’s Club food court, will usually involve ordering the pretzel).
You shouldn't need a Sam's Club membership to eat at the food court
According to Lush Dollar, Sam’s Club locations — unlike Costcos — don’t tend to ask to check your membership credentials as you enter the store, something the blog post author confirmed with a greeter at their local Sam’s. This not having to flash a card thing means that you can just head straight for the food court and place your order, since the food court also doesn’t check whether you’re really a club member.
A Sam’s Club rep cited by Hip2Save confirmed this policy of allowing non-members to eat at the food court, although this blog does acknowledge that your mileage may vary, as different stores may have different policies. Additionally, certain Sam’s Club greeters who are not familiar with this policy may ask to see your membership card before letting you proceed past the doorway.
If you should run into such a greeter, How to Get Free Things has a hack for this. (Again, this may or may not work for you, but it’s worth a shot). If you tell the greeter that you’re on your way to the customer service counter to purchase a Sam’s Club membership, they’re reportedly unlikely to follow you all the way there and wait as you complete the transaction. … Meaning that you can always detour for a quick slice of pizza en route.
The Sam's Club food court has a not-so-secret menu
Sam’s Club’s food court, unlike Starbucks, has a very short “secret menu,” which seemingly consists of just two items (via Taste of Home): the ICEE float and the pizza pretzel. This food court is similar to Starbucks, however, in the fact that several of its secret menu items (well, all of them) have made their way onto the regular menu, similarly to the popular cafe’s Pink Drink.
In July 2018, the first of the “secret” items at Sam’s Club’s food court was declassified: Southern Living claims the store started officially selling ICEE floats consisting of Pepsi, cherry, or blue raspberry ICEEs topped with vanilla soft serve. (At that time, the ice cream advantage went to Sam’s, since Costco stuck with froyo alone until the summer of 2020.)
October 2018 saw the main menu debut of the Sam’s Club pizza pretzel, which is made by taking one of its soft pretzels (which are soft, chewy, and delicious in their unadorned form) and then dressing it up with cheese, pepperoni, and marinara sauce. The reason why Sam’s chose to wait until October instead of unveiling the pizza pretzel along with the ICEE float is because, per Insider, it happens to be both National Pizza Month and National Pretzel Month.
Sam Club's hot dog combo is the same price as Costco's (but they have Polish dogs!)
In 2018 (which was evidently the Golden Age of big box food courts), Business Insider visited both Sam’s Club and Costco in order to do a head-to-head (or belly-to-belly) comparison between the two. While Costco is famed far and wide for the “amazing deal” that is the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo, what’s less well known is the fact that Sam’s Club offers the same combo at the same price. Business Insider found the dogs, the buns, and the available condiments at Sam’s to be inferior to the ones found at Costco, but if all you’re looking for is a cheap hot dog and a soda, then Sam’s fits the bill just as well as its counterpart does.
If what you’re really looking for is a Polish dog, however — the edible kind, not the Gończy Polski (handsome hounds though they are) — then Sam’s is where you need to be. When Costco’s food courts dropped Polish sausages in 2018 in favor of açaí bowls (thus ending the aforementioned Golden Age), Sam’s Club added this popular item to its food court menus nationwide (via Today) in a marketing coup that may well have won over a number of former Costco members.
Sam's Club's food court no longer carries Coke products
If you’re not a Polish sausage fan and pizza pretzels have way too many carbs for you to contemplate (so sad!), it used to be that your choice between Sam’s Club and Costco came down to yet one more existential question: Coke or Pepsi? It would seem that Costco only carries the latter products, while Sam’s, at least up until recently, adhered to the former.
Once upon a time (that time being 2013), Costco did carry Coke products, but as the chain confirmed in answer to a question posed on its Facebook page, the store made the switch over to Pepsi in order to “deliver quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices to our members [b]y crafting a long term program that supports our mission.” Translated into non-corporate English, this means Pepsi cut Costco a better deal. Well, six years later, they must have offered a similar deal to Sam’s Club, as this Reddit thread seems to indicate that its food courts began switching to Pepsi-only in 2019 — and by now, the changeover is probably complete.
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