Who Says There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

hotodog.jpgBy Meredith Brody


On a recent trip to Costco to patronize their amazingly low-cost pharmacy - well, a second trip (note to self, and others: the pharmacy at the Richmond location is NOT open on Sunday!) - we wanted to stay as far away from the five-pound hunks of cheese and the six-pack of fresh raspberries that we buy with such optimism and feelings of economy and then find ourselves throwing more than half away.

So, since it was lunchtime, we thought we'd buy one of those huge Costco hot dogs, which come with a 20-ounce cup that you can refill (ostensibly once, but I've never caught any employee policing the dispensers) with soda, iced tea (raspberry-flavored, alas), or lemonade (pink, but at least it doesn't taste pink). (The price of the combo has apparently held steady for a quarter-century.)

But on this day, as we walked towards the pharmacy, we were already tripping over those little food demo tables Costco sets up in its aisles, featuring little treats set out cautiously by Costco's demonstrators, trained, it seems, to dole food out at a measured pace. Before we'd dropped off our prescription, we'd gotten samples of a nut-encrusted power bar, and a green energy drink that you stirred up with powder from a jar.

We'd never seen so many stands before.

During the half-hour we had to wait around, we tried a warm fruit cobbler emblazoned with the Martha Stewart name, some hard goat cheese on a cracker, spinach dip scooped up with chips, a 6-cheese potato gratin (the only cheese we caught from the server's spiel was asiago), hard dried blueberries mixed with Fage yogurt, white cheddar Pirate's Booty, Progresso clam chowder, and very chewy dried mango.

The girl at the Bolthouse Organics carrot juice stand (a brand we already had two one-liter containers of in our refrigerator, since we'd bought the three-pack the last time we were in Costco) refused to pour us any. Maybe she was on a break. And the line at the fresh-brewed coffee machine was just too damned long.

None of the samples encouraged us to purchase anything. (Unlike a freebie once handed out at Trader Joe's, which encouraged us to immediately buy both a rice-and-nuts product and some cranberry relish.) The potato gratin, in fact, was absolutely awful. (On another visit to Costco we were somewhat impressed by baby quiches made with phyllo dough, but, again, not enough to spring for the party pak.) And we only stopped by the Pirate's Booty stand several times because it had the shortest line.

But on our way out the door, we were able to waltz past the hot dog (and pizza, and churro) stand undeterred. We had dined, not wisely, and not particularly well, but it didn't cost us a thing. Others have noticed this in the past, of course, but hey! It's never too late.

Though, in truth, the hot dog would have been more satisfying. If less adventurous.

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