The Sneaky Strategy Behind Costco's Food Court Layout

Costco fans are a pretty passionate bunch. They swarm the big box warehouse in droves in search of cases of Kirkland toilet paper, rotisserie chickens, and big screen TVs, and then light up social media with tales of their bargain hunting. Costco passion doesn't end at the checkout, either, because it's not really a trip to Costco without a stop at the food court for the famed $1 jumbo hot dog. But, have you ever questioned why the food court is your last stop and not the first? It's actually because of a sneaky-but-smart store layout that's designed to make you shop while you're hungry and then spend a few extra dollars on the way out.

The location of the food court — at the end of the checkout area — is no accident. Costco doesn't want you walking past the hot slices of pizza on your way through the front door, they want you shopping on an empty stomach. Not only that, they want you to purposely show up hungry thinking about the food court, because then you're all but guaranteed to spend more money.

Shopping hungry makes you spendy

You might have heard somewhere that it's not a good idea to go grocery shopping when you're hungry. This isn't just something your parents made up to get you to eat your vegetables: It's actually a fact that you'll go off budget in the grocery store if you show up a little hangry.

A 2015 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said, "Five laboratory and field studies show that hunger increases the accessibility of acquisition-related concepts and the intention to acquire not only food but also nonfood objects. Moreover, people act on this intention and acquire more nonfood objects (e.g., binder clips) when they are hungry, both when these items are freely available and when they must be paid for."

Of course, the bigwigs at Costco know this, which is why they don't want you to hit the hot dog scene until you've filled up your cart. In fact, it's arguable that Costco is that much more irresistible because its famed food court encourages people to show up to the store hungry, knowing that they'll be stopping for a slice of pizza on the way out.

Costco also arranges the aisles to get you to spend

Once you're inside the store with your belly growling, you don't have much of a defense against Costco's merchandising. Everything is arranged in a way to encourage impulse buying, like placing the TVs and jewelry toward the front of the store. Regulars aren't immune, either, because it's standard practice for the store to constantly rearrange and relocate popular items like toilet paper so that you have to walk around looking for things and discover new products along the way.

While it's possible to go out of your way to hit the food court before you shop, it does mean walking through the checkout area or entering through the exit, and you will probably get a raised eyebrow or two from the staff. One Redditor said that they often go in through the exit to get to the food court, and they have been questioned as a result. "I've been stopped and told I am not allowed to do this and must go through the entrance and through the registers."

There is one way to battle the urge to spend, of course: fill up on free samples. Depending on the day, you can make a pretty good meal out of all the snacks on display around the store, plus there's no limit to how many you can take. If you're still in the mood for a hot dog or pizza slice after that, then at least you've had more bang for your buck.