Weird Rules Costco Food Court Employees Have To Follow

man standing outside food court
man standing outside food court - George Rose/Getty Images

Between taking payments, dealing with impatient guests, juggling dough balls, and the constant onslaught of chicken bake orders, working the food court at the giant retailer Costco Wholesale is far from a cakewalk. Every day, food court employees don their red aprons, hop behind the counter, and make the location of the world-famous $1.50 hot dog-and-soda combo go round. "Never worked in the food court before, but I have nothing but respect for the folks that do," one Reddit user wrote under the company's subreddit, summing up our consensus.

When it comes to the everyday processes, procedures, and guidelines these employees must abide by when on the job, there are certainly the usuals required by any food service worker: wearing gloves or throwing on hair nets, for example. But as it turns out, there are quite a few additional -- and unusual -- job requirements for the kitchen teams working at the world's second-largest retailer. Check out these weird rules Costco food court employees have to follow.

Read more: 20 Frozen Foods Costco Shoppers Swear By

They Have To Wait In Line To Order, Too

Costco food court counter
Costco food court counter - Facebook

One of the perks of working in a kitchen is being able to grab a hot dish on the way out the door for your lunch break ... right? Wrong in the case of Costco food court employees. If they forget their bagged lunch and find themselves needing a meal, food from the kitchen in which they work is far from available. They have to order it at the same price as everyone else ... in the same way as everyone else. This includes standing outside at the window, and it seems to be one of the most hated parts of the job. "Not only do we not eat for free but we have to wait in the long lines just like everyone else," said a Reddit employee on a thread from a few years back. "It's fun to try and scarf down a pizza slice after spending 10 minutes of my 15 minute break in line."

Yikes. Thankfully, certain changes are being made to help cut down on waiting times, such as the introduction of self-serve kiosks, and allowing employees at certain stores to order from their coworkers in the kitchen ahead of time. Even though they still have to exit and pick up their food from the window, they won't have to spend the majority of their well-earned break in line, hoping they have time to inhale the sustenance before clocking back in.

They Are Prohibited From Pocketing Leftovers

employee turning food at Costco
employee turning food at Costco - Fang Zheng/Getty Images

We've all wondered what happens to the leftover food in the backs of restaurants at the end of the day, and the sad truth is that a lot of it ends up in the trash. But some really awesome higher-ups in certain fast-food kitchens have taken steps to cut back on food waste, as well as give their employees a pat on the back after a day's work, by allowing them to take food home at closing. McDonald's employees, for example, have admitted across platforms like Indeed and Reddit that they are allowed to indulge in a free meal per shift, while others can even tote extra prepared food home.

For Costco food court workers, however, there is no such luck. According to employees, the company has a strict no-pocketing food policy -- likely to discourage workers from conveniently cooking extra food that isn't picked up right before closing just to take it home. Still, we hate to imagine the hardworking team leaving with empty stomachs and perfectly good unsold food going into a dumpster. Thankfully, while some products that have been sitting out for too long will indeed have to be thrown away, Costco maintains a massive donation program for its food court leftovers. Knowing that extras are gifted to local community pantries or homeless shelters definitely cheers us up some.

They Have To Cook Until Closing ... And Sometimes Later

fast food employee washing dishes
fast food employee washing dishes - Juan Monino/Getty Images

Closing down any kitchen is a tedious task -- and behind the scenes at the Costco food court, things are no different. There is ample sanitation to do (yes, this includes taking the frozen yogurt machine apart and cleaning each individual piece), tables to wipe, floors to mop, and drains to clear. It's a big job ... and nothing will slow it down like a last-minute order right before closing time.

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, Costco policy allows guests to order right up until the minute of shutdown. This means that if the official closing is at 7 p.m. and someone orders a pizza at 6:59 p.m., the staff has to make it. This could put them 20 minutes after end-of-shift to get this final order out -- and only then can they hone in on the closing duties.

According to Reddit comments, some locations allow food court employees to begin light closing duties early. This can include not cooking new items 30 minutes out from the end of the business day and simply selling whatever is already ready during that time -- but not every group of employees is so lucky. So the next time you stop by Costco in the evening for a late shopping trip and start craving a hot dog two minutes before lockup ... just keep the people behind the kitchen counter in mind before placing an order.

They Don't Have To Honor Personalization Requests

worker sprinkling cheese on pizzas
worker sprinkling cheese on pizzas - Scott Olson/Getty Images

We all have preferences when it comes to food. Some people can't stand pineapple on pizza, for example, while others salivate at the mere thought of it. Difference in taste is part of being human, and some food chains recognize that -- and even capitalize on it. Burger King based its entire slogan around its willingness to cater to every individual order in 1974, with the development of the phrase we can all hear playing in our heads: "Have It Your Way."

While you may be able to request extra lettuce at the popular burger chain, this isn't the case at Costco's food court. Employees across the internet report that there is zero requirement to honor any variations from the set menu -- and in some locations, it is prohibited. One customer complained on Reddit about not receiving extra sauce on their pizza. They were promptly told by a former employee it was not permitted and that if it had happened in the past, someone was not following the rules.

Still, that doesn't mean it never happens. "Some 'extras' are/were okay like [...] slightly more berries in a sundae but nothing ridiculous," countered an employee on a separate thread. Yet another admitted that whenever a customer asked for extra toppings, they would agree ... but secretly put the typical amount on anyway. While the placebo effect is indeed a powerful thing, we recommend a different food stop when looking for guaranteed customization.

They Have To Clean Their Own Tables

customers eating at Costco tables
customers eating at Costco tables - Bloomberg/Getty Images

Every single one of Costco's seemingly endless aisles, bathrooms, and departments must be cleaned. Tidying usually falls under the duties of the warehouse's maintenance workers, but this is not the case when it comes to the food court tables. According to employees, cleaning up crumbs and food spills sprinkled about the many tables outside the department window is their responsibility.

"Does Costco ever clean the tables in the food court?" reads the title of a Reddit thread in which a consumer inquires about messy eating spaces at their local retail giant. A worker responds -- perhaps slightly defensively: "Yes they do clean them [...] but the priority is to help people in line. And people are gross and leave the tables super messy, unfortunately they don't have enough employees to wipe after every member finishes."

Another user -- a Costco maintenance worker by trade -- explained that they tried to help with the food court as much as they could. "Food court employees are supposed to do it but they are often overwhelmed and understaffed," they said. The good news is that as consumers, we can easily help out by keeping tidiness in mind and picking up after ourselves post-dining.

They Are Forbidden From Adding Chocolate To Orders

chocolate sundae from Costco
chocolate sundae from Costco - Facebook

Chocolate has become a hot topic in the food court at Costco -- one that has turned into the basis for a new employee rule. Apparently, so many guests request the addition of a chocolate drizzle on products that don't call for it that a specific policy forbidding workers to do so has developed.

While mochas and chocolate sundaes are the only items calling for chocolate currently listed on the food court menu, it hasn't stopped people from trying to have it added to other foods -- such as the strawberry ice cream cup or the vanilla frozen yogurt, for example. However, per company policy, these requests must be denied.

"I work at the food court and my supervisor was telling me about the new strawberry that came out," a worker divulged on a recent Reddit thread. "We were told to tell people it only goes by the main customizations at the kiosk; so by policy, we're not allowed to put chocolate on strawberries/swirls." In summary, if you're heading to Costco hoping to talk the person taking your order into adding chocolate to your froyo, think again. You may just want to save some time and hit up a local ice cream shop instead.

They Can't Have Water Bottles In The Workspace

person opening water bottle
person opening water bottle - Eleganza/Getty Images

Hydration is key when it comes to doing your job adequately ... and, you know, just living adequately. Aside from keeping you alive, drinking enough water brings increased focus and attention, better overall functioning, and superior energy levels. That's why this particular rule for Costco food court staff seems odd, at best. Employees across the internet have divulged there is a rule prohibiting them from keeping water bottles in their workspace.

This is reportedly for sanitary reasons (much like the way food cannot be consumed in food preparatory areas), but many workers seem to find the rule both extreme and difficult to abide by, as waiting for breaks to drink can be challenging in a hot kitchen. "Food court [...] has a small shelf on the wall and that is where they keep their water bottles. When corporate is not around ..." admitted a Reddit user on a thread discussing the topic.

Another commenter seemed infuriated, going so far as to suggest notifying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "You should have access to drinking water [...] any time you need," they concluded. Whether there's a leg to stand on here or not, we can say with certainty that sweating near a pizza oven with no way to quench your thirst does not sound enjoyable.

They Aren't Allowed To Wash Their Hands Too Much

man scrubbing hands in kitchen
man scrubbing hands in kitchen - Benjamin Clapp/Shutterstock

Given how easily contamination can occur, there's no such thing as too much hand washing where food preparation employees are concerned, right? Apparently, there is for Costco's food court workers. According to employees on Reddit, there is an unofficial rule regarding hand washing that involves some withholding from the germ-killing act.

"They have an unwritten policy that you can't wash your hands in between handling cash, and putting on gloves," said a user under the subreddit r/Costco. "This is because washing your hands for 20 seconds [...] would slow down service." Though this specific employee expressed disgust with the practice and questioned whether they should report their specific manager for requiring it, other users weren't so sure.

"Food outbreak investigators have not identified the handling of money as a cause of illness," contributed another, quoting their state's Department of Health hand-washing guidelines. "But it is a good idea to change your gloves and wash your hands between touching money and preparing food. Many patrons complain [...] if they see food workers using the same gloves to prepare food and handle money." So although the requirement is perhaps not one that technically goes against any standards, the fact remains that some food court workers are uncomfortable with it, which is unfortunate.

They Have To Ditch Their Hair Dye ... Or Not

woman dyeing hair at salon
woman dyeing hair at salon - Renata Angerami/Getty Images

For years, it was an unspoken but well-understood part of being a Costco employee -- to be accepted into the warehouse workforce, you needed a head of naturally-colored hair. While brown, black, blonde, and natural red hues were considered acceptable in the Costco workplace, those more "eccentric" colors such as pink, purple, or blue were a no-go. This restriction extended to food court employees, even though they mostly work away from the public eye and keep their hair covered by nets.

However, in more recent years, Costco seems to have relaxed a bit on the issue. "Personal appearance was deliberately left out of any corporate policy and given to the individual locations to decide," explains one Reddit employee under r/Costco. The power to determine what is deemed appropriate has shifted to each general manager -- and some are becoming increasingly progressive. "I've seen plenty of hair colors at my warehouse, even more flamboyant in morning merch positions," chimed in another user, positively confirming growth.

But while there may no longer be any official restrictions stopping employees from donning rainbow highlights, it still happens. Some managers remain more conservative in regard to what is allowed, so whether or not a food court employee at any given location will be granted the gift of personal expression through their locks remains a toss-up.

They Have To Remove Their Nail Polish Before Clocking In

hand with nail polish
hand with nail polish - Yuliya Ufimtseva/Shutterstock

Nail polish is one of the many ways in which a person can express themselves. Generally speaking, nail color is less regulated than, say, visible tattoos in the workplace, making it a better option for employees wanting to display a little bit of individuality. However, this is not the case for Costco food court employees. Freshly painted tips -- even in neutral shades -- aren't an option at all.

Bare fingernails are the one and only choice for food court workers, according to Costco policy. "No nail polish or piercings in food departments," said an employee decisively on Reddit, echoing the many testimonies from members of staff across the internet. As for the reason a set of pink nails is a no-no? Well, the company is apparently taking no chances when it comes to consumer safety.

Mental Floss interviewed a group of Costco employees who noted that the main motivation for the rule comes from a fear that the color might chip, dropping into a consumer's bubbling cheese slice during the preparatory process. Although we would imagine the chances of such an occurrence are relatively small considering the food court team is wearing gloves much of the time, we can't fault Costco for caution. After all, a sparkly blue flake is hardly a condiment we want on our hot dog.

They Are Required To Give A Printout Of Nutritional Information To Customers Who Ask

kids eating pizza at Costco
kids eating pizza at Costco - Facebook

Fast food is rarely considered healthy and Costco's selections are no different. With sodas, greasy (but delicious) pizzas, and ice cream dripping with chocolate, it may not be the place for a stop-in if you're on a clean eating streak. But if you spent longer than expected shopping and are staring over at the tantalizing food court thinking of giving into your grumbling stomach, all hope is not completely lost in sticking to your goals. You can know exactly which items get your stamp of approval thanks to employees in the food court.

While many locations have nutritional information posted publicly outside the department window for all to view, some don't -- and if that's the case at your warehouse, never fear. Food court employees are required to keep a binder behind the counter full of printouts with the most up-to-date product details, such as total fat, sodium, and other things we really don't want to know (but probably should) about the food we are about to digest.

Although nowadays this info can mostly be found independently on food blogs and similar platforms by way of Google search, it's nice to have the option to ask when you're ordering on a whim. That way, you may not have to completely throw your daily calorie count in the garbage along with the soiled napkins at the end of your meal.

They Are Required To Use A Saucing Robot

pizza saucer at Costco
pizza saucer at Costco - YouTube

With technologies like drones for farming and metal dogs in police departments, robots really do seem to be the way of the future. Believe it or not, this extends to the Costco food court, as well. Sure, you may have noticed the increasing use of self-service kiosks for placing orders, but this isn't the only futuristic-seeming device in use by the people who cook our $9.95 pizzas.

Little do most consumers know, there is a sauce machine tucked away in the Costco kitchens. A big, spinning plate sits atop a rectangular machine, awaiting a bare crust. A giant arm moves slowly across the rotating dough, spreading the perfect amount of pizza sauce in the shape of a ring as it goes. Although employees claim this sauce distribution step is quicker when performed by hand, they are required to use the robot. "We used to hand ladle it! And it was definitely faster. However the sauce machine does it perfect every time," admits an employee on Reddit. "No dead spots and allows you to do other things while it sauces."

Pretty cool, we'd say. Will there continue to be additional robots employed to join the human workers as they scramble to get orders done? Only time will tell -- but we're pro anything that helps these hard-working employees experience a smoother shift.

Read the original article on Mashed.