Costco cafe pickup
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Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club

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Costco cafe hot dog
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Cafe Face Off

If there's one thing Costco is known for — besides $5 rotisserie chickens — it's the hot dog combo. The cafe at the front of the store has been selling the hot dog combo for $1.50 since 1985, and has no plans to change that. The loss leader is so popular that Sam's Club, too, sells the combo for the same price. In fact, the two store's cafe menus mirror each other almost exactly. Which one has better buns, and which one has a can't-miss dessert? I went to both — and ate a lot — to find out.


Prices and availability are subject to change. Food court experience may vary by location.


Related: 25 Food Halls and Markets That Offer a Taste of Something for Everyone

Sam's Club cafe counter
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Sam's Club: Ordering

Rating: 3 out of 10

In order to get any of that cafe goodness, you need to order first. At Sam's Club, that just means ordering at a counter. There are only a couple registers at most locations, so lines can be long. Nothing about the process is particularly efficient or unusual despite the company having a fantastic scan-and-go in store purchasing app for regular merchandise. If Sam's Club expanded that to include the cafe, it would be a primo ordering experience. 


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

Costco cafe ordering kiosk
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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The typical ordering counter has been replaced by self-serve ordering kiosks at many locations due to the pandemic.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.

Sam's Club cafe hot dog
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Sam's Club: Hot Dog Combo

Price: $1.50

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 only 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.

Costco cafe hot dog
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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.

Sam's Club cafe condiments
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Sam's Club: Condiments

Rating: 6 out of 10

Like so many things during the pandemic, the condiments at my Sam's Club 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, hand-written 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.

Costco cafe condiments
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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. Still, for topping hot dogs, the condiment situation here is fine.

Sam's Club cafe pizza
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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?

Costco cafe pizza
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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. 

Sam's Club cafe churro
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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. 

Costco cafe churro
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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.

Sam's Club cafe berry sundae
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Sam's Club: Berry Sundae

Price: $1.58

Rating: 10 out of 10

The berry sundae is the sleeper hit 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.

Costco cafe berry sundae
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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.

Sam's Club cafe soda machines
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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. 

Costco cafe soda machine
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Costco: Soda

Price: 59 cents for 20 ounces

Rating: 2 out of 10

Compared to Sam's Club, 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. Though there are more drink options listed on the sign on the fountain dispenser, I've never seen them available in a Costco. They get one extra point for offering smoothies and a cold brew mocha freeze, but they're $3. 

Sam's Club cafe pretzel
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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.

Costco cafe chicken bake
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Costco: Chicken Bake

Price: $2.99

Rating: 6 out of 10

The wildcard item at Costco is the much loved chicken bake. 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. 

Costco cafe pizza hot dog churro
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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 its overall win against Sam's Club's cafe, despite having 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.