Ah, Costco. Need a $9,000, seven-person hot tub? They've got it. How about a 38-ounce jar of cashews for $43? Got that too. Five tubes of Crest toothpaste for $16? Cat litter in a 42-pound box for $26? A $4,800 outdoor kitchen? Check, check, check.

But forget the bulk shopping, forget the industrial-size pickle jars. Costco's real draw comes after a customer checks out, when the siren call of the Costco food court (that's what the company calls it, but it's really just a snack bar) beckons. One combo meal in particular stands out: The combination of a jumbo hot dog and 20-ounce fountain drink for just $1.50. You can't even get a greeting card for that, and in some places, you can't even get a bottle of water.

According to a Costco spokesperson, that $1.50 price has stayed the same since 1985, when the deal moved into the stores after beginning as a hot-dog cart in front of the San Diego location. Yep, 1985, the year of "Back to the Future," "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," and New Coke. And the deal is even better now, because both the soda and hot dog used to be smaller. More than 84 million combos were sold in 2017.

And best of all: The company says it has no plans to change the price.

Fellow retailers, take note: Costco discovered not just a great deal that customers value but also an experience they love. The food court holds a special place in Costco customers' hearts. Shoppers who were quoted in the Costco Connection magazine recalled surprise parties, budget dates, and meeting new friends there, all while dining on the bargain eats.

And there's no question that the cheap but filling combo, with its can't-top-this price emblazoned in huge print atop the sales counter, works as an incentive to shoppers. For a warehouse store that requires customers to pay an annual fee, it's a memorable way to give shoppers positive memories when it comes time to renew that membership. The checkout lines may be long, the aisles sometimes tightly packed, but there's a generous and tasty meal beckoning from just beyond the registers. And once you're served, there's plenty of time to sit down with family and friends and, uh, ketchup.

Published on: Apr 11, 2018