At long last, Costco is bringing back those free food samples that customers have been longing for throughout the pandemic.
As first reported by CNN, samples will slowly but surely be making a comeback when the store kicks off "a phased return to full sampling" in early June.
Around 170 U.S. Costco locations will begin offering food samples again the first week of June, and "most of the remaining locations" will follow suit at the end of the month, Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said during the company's latest earnings call.
Galanti announced that Costco will have "increased safety protocols" to ensure the safe distribution of food. For instance, employees will prepare samples behind plexiglass, make them in smaller batches and hand them out to one customer at a time. In other words, you shouldn't expect to see the usual throngs of people crowding around sample displays.
A TODAY editor who visited a Costco in Lawrence, New York, last weekend confirmed that, at least at that location, samples are back — but for the most part, individually wrapped. Costco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The return of samples will surely come as welcome news for the warehouse chain's customers, who haven't had the chance to nosh on free food while shopping at Costco in 14 months. In March 2020, the company put the kibosh on the pint-sized food freebies due to coronavirus concerns.
In May 2020, the company announced it would be reintroducing the popular shopping perk, but with a few changes.
“We're going to start doing some things in mid-June on a slow rollout basis in sampling,” Richard Galanti said during the company's quarterly earnings call at the time. “I can't tell you any more, but needless to say it’s not going to be where you go and just pick up an open sample with your fingers."
During Thursday's earnings call, Galanti also revealed that Costco's food courts will continue their journey to fully reopening. As part of the move, indoor seating will return to most of the 560 U.S. Costco locations next month "with more physical separation" and tables will be downsized. Instead of seating six or eight customers, they will now seat four.
The store first shut down seating areas in its food courts at the beginning of the pandemic, but reopened the counter service hot spots with a limited menu for takeout only in May 2020.
Last month, the warehouse chain announced that its food courts would soon be making a full comeback with tables and chairs in stores with outdoor seating areas. The company also revealed that indoor food court seating would eventually return.
Earlier this month, following the CDC's announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or social distance indoors, Costco joined the ranks of companies who have stated that fully vaccinated shoppers no longer need to wear masks if their local area doesn't have a mask mandate. Customers will not have to provide proof of vaccination but the company asked for "members' responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy."