The Washington Elite Shop At Costco

Apparently, the current crop of Washington elite shop at Costco for all their fancy dinner parties, which is certainly the most sensible thing we’ve heard about the douchebags who populate our nation’s capital in a long time.

It’s some sort of weird fad according to the NYT, irritating local caterers to no end:

Susan Lacz, chief executive of Ridgewells, the largest catering company in the Washington area, said she knows the trend all too well. “My gosh, it drives me crazy,” she said. “Some of the people I hear are going to Costco, I think, ‘Oh, you must be kidding me.'”

The ultimate awkwardness, she said, is when clients want to buy their food from Costco but disguise it: “They’ll say: ‘Why don’t you bring the fancy glassware, and we’ll get the rest from Costco. And could you put it on one of your fancy plates? Oh, and how about some of your fancy ice cream on top?'”

Ms. Lacz said she was “not going to name names,” but that one of her best clients, a high-end retail store, told her, “We’re going to go to Costco and buy a bunch of stuff, and we want you guys to serve it.”

To which she replied: “No, you’re not.”

There’s actually a name for this phenomenon:

“Reverse chic is a very powerful phenomenon in status-oriented circles,” said David Kamp, the author of “The United States of Arugula” (Broadway, 2006), a book about the American fine-food revolution. “I think Costco is the same thing. It gets discovered.”

Isn’t that precious?

Tightening the Beltway, the Elite Shop Costco [NYT]


Edit Your Comment

  1. 3drage says:

    douchebag, interesting choice of words.

  2. harleymcc says:

    “the most sensible thing we’ve heard about the douchebags who populate our nation’s capital in a long time”

    Wow, bit of an anger issue?

  3. ParadigmABQ says:

    @harleymcc: Or, y’know, sometimes people just call it like they see it and it has nothing to do with anger.

  4. DrGirlfriend says:

    That’s so cute. Don’t these people have their own nice plates & stuff to serve Costco food on?

  5. SamTheGeek says:

    Hey! The people in Washington, D.C. who have nothing to do with these “Douchebags” have been shopping at the local Costco since it was called Price Club. It’s recognized as the best place to buy large quantities of food for home-cooked dinner parties or brunches. I’ve never heard of someone asking a caterer to serve Costco food before, though.

  6. Snakeophelia says:

    Who says it’s actually reverse chic? Did anyone ever stop to think that perhaps people we think of as rich and powerful aren’t really made of money, and like to find a bargain and save money just like the rest of us? I make a darn good salary and I sure as heck shop at BJ’s and Costco. I find it hard to believe that people are doing this now for the message it sends, rather than just to get some great stuff for sale.

  7. DAK says:

    The only way that Costco could be any better is if they stopped giving out free samples so that there wasn’t a traffic jam of brain dead jackals every 20 feet clamoring for a taste of some random tidbit they wouldn’t be caught dead eating otherwise. If that’s where the so called elite want to get their chow, more power to them.

  8. GreatCaesarsGhost says:

    Well, Susan’s certainly got a stick up her butt.

  9. Gloria says:

    Does this mean much? It’s just grocery shopping. The “richness” of it comes out on how it’s prepared and presented, after all.

  10. Sogarth says:

    … I think the commenters here just aren’t getting it. I don’t think anybody’s criticizing the elite for shopping at Costco; the issue here is that these people are asking high-end caterers to serve Costco-bought food at a discount. Why? So that they can *look* like they paid a fortune to have Ridgewells cater your party while cheaping out on the food (in relative terms). Which is ridiculous, imho.

  11. krunk4ever says:

    do note this is talking about Washington, D.C. and not the state of Washington. I was confused which area they were talking about since you said Washington by itself, followed by nation’s capital. D.C. was never mentioned in Consumerist’s summary, but the article does indeed point out D.C. many times.

  12. clevershark says:

    I guess I’m not the only one thinking that the quoted caterer must be a bit douchey in person.

  13. Egakino says:

    @Sogarth: I think i have to agree with you, this is not an article blasting Costco. It is blasting the people who buy cheap/bulk then try to pass it off as $100 a pound Kobe beef, an exaggeration but you get the idea.

    @clevershark: I thought so at first but then I started to think about it for a little bit. Basically these people want her to put her name on food she has nothing to do with and has no quality control over.

    Put yourself in her shoes, what if this food turned out to be complete crap or just highly inferior to the product you could produce (which is likely). How is that going to effect your reputation as a caterer. Not to mention how insulting that has to be to you as a professional. “Yeah we like how you serve food but just that, use our food instead yours too expensive/not good.”

    BTW having tried a lot of caterers myself, I am a wedding photographer on occasion, IMHO the best food by far for your money is homemade and served as such. That is unless you want to spend A LOT, and I do mean A LOT, of money on an extremely good one.

  14. Egakino says:

    (sorry for the double post)
    instead yours too expensive/not good.
    edited as:
    instead of yours which is too expensive/not good.

  15. badgerette says:

    I noticed this in Baltimore. It’s white collar Wal-Mart.

    If Wal-Mart had stellar employee benefits and low turnover rate.

    And quality items – crap, never mind.

  16. Jean Naimard says:

    Next step: Costco starts offering peons to serve their food…

  17. Mary says:

    @krunk4ever: Are you from the US? No news outlet in the US ever refers to the state of Washington & vicinity as “the Washington area”. They refer to it as “Washington state”. I live in Seattle, and even here we call DC simply “Washington” too. Context is everything…it takes a big stretch of the imagination to think that the NYT would bother profiling Washington state elites shopping at Costco.

  18. EvilConservative says:

    Finding fault with shopping at Costco says a lot more about the elitist, snobbish attitudes of the writers than than the people doing the shopping. The NYT article is dripping with that kind of snobbery and elitist disbelief that anyone not ‘completely common’ would deign to shop at such a store. Typical crap from a dying birdcage liner company.

  19. spinachdip says:

    I’m not sure how surprising it is that a store that charges an annual membership fee has an elite clientele. If DC’s poor were maximizing their government aid and making weekly Zipcar trips to costco, now, that would be a story.

    I like NY Times, Judith Miller and Jayson Blair notwithstanding, I really do. But their trend pieces have always bugged me. They’re either grasping for straws and seeing trends where there is none, or about five years late to the game.

  20. pyloff says:

    A lot of part time hating on Meggers. I had a trip to Costco via my eminent and wise brother. Besides needing a membership and a Discover card it wasn’t so bad.

    I bought a case of beer and enjoyed a hot dogger. Maybe again sometime.

  21. MBZ321 says:

    you mean Amex right?
    @pyloff: Besides needing a membership and a Discover card…

  22. SeraSera says:

    Didn’t Consumerist just post something about how Costco is the best place to get prescription eyeglasses?

    Costco’s great. DC Costco is great. Hell, the Pentagon City one right off the metro and only place I know to get $2.79/lb chicken, 72-pack boxes of Bagel Bites, and big bags of dried mangoes… and I don’t know a single Georgetown student who’ll turn down the chance to get pasta/jam/cereal/huge boxes of frozen creampuffs at low prices.

  23. EmmaC says:

    Twice I had to host (meaning pay) for a reception after a college music recital, and twice I went and bought (almost) everything at Costco. Even though I came in under budget both times, I had a ton of leftover food that I shared with those who helped me. I also received a lot of compliments. While I mostly used Costco food/platters, I also bought a couple of Wal-mart hot food platters and received compliments on those food too. For nice dishes/trays I asked friends to borrow trays and was able to use flowers I picked as decorations. It takes more work to plan and get everything yourself but in a weird way I was really proud of being able to pull it off and maybe that’s what the elite are feeling, instead of hiring someone they kinda did it themselves. As for servers I did it along with friends but I also know people who work as waiters/waitresses who are always looking for extra work. Yes, you bypass the catering firm but if you are on a budget, that’s what you gotta do.

  24. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    @3drage: Yet another situation exemplifying the classiness of our dear Meg Marco.

  25. algormortis says:

    I can’t be the only one who saw “Washington Elite Shop at Costco” and thought “Yeah, I was totally behind two millionaires in line at the one in Shoreline last week…”

    Then, well, what Mary said occurred to me. Sometimes we have these moments of wanting to believe those of us from the other Washington are important. :)

    Costco is all that, and as a lower-income crazy student I easily recoup that membership fee in things like pharmacy services (generic wellbutrin for less than half of what k-mart/walgreens/etc wants) , cheap ramen, cheap milk, and $14 flannel sheets and $4 industrial bottles of moisturizer. there are the eyeglasses at a dirt cheap price, but just like the food court you don’t have to be a member to hop that goodness.

    If anything, sometimes my yuppie friends mock my Costco-going habits. This is why i make half of what they do and yet live more comfortably. mock my 48 rolls of toilet paper all you want, guys, i paid 1/5 what you do “saving money” at Target.

    Are they perfect? Heck no. Do I love Costco and their fair employee policies and cheapo gas? Hell yes.

  26. Me - now with more humidity says:

    Badgerette: Don’t be hatin’ on Walmart. I just started grocery shopping there, and I save 25% a week over Publix or Winn Dixie. And as for the benefits thing, no one forces anyone at WalMart to work there at gunpoint. They show up, do their jobs… and at my WalMart, they enjoy what they do.

    And as for Costco, it rocks! If you’re too concerned about your image to shop there, you need to pull that stick out of your butt and stop letting your ego drive your life.

    Value is good. Saving money is good. Being a douchebag because others like to save money is lame.

  27. Me - now with more humidity says:

    Badgerette: BTW, that’s a 25% savings on the SAME items. Not equivalents. But on Kraft and Stouffer and Tide and Dreyers and so on.

  28. j-yo says:

    Shopping at Costco is a smart way to get a great price on quality items while supporting a company that actually pays its employees living wages and decent benefits. This is true no matter what D.C. clique you’re in.

    What IS crass is expecting your caterers to serve your Costco food on their pretty dishes. Last time I checked, Costco sells nice serving pieces, too, so I recommend that that these social climbers cough up a few extra dollars for that and then just hire servers for the parties.

  29. Rupan says:

    I love Costco. If they want to use it so what?

  30. rachaeljean says:

    I agree with J-Yo, it would be waay easier and less offensive to the caterers to just hire servers. Yeesh.

    Also, I totally thought it was going to be an article about the Micro$erfs living it up on Kirkland toasted almonds or something, ha. I’m from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon represent!) and still thought the wording was ambiguous. Yes, “Washington” can mean D.C…. but “D.C.” would be so much clearer, and take up less room as well. The only time I can think of when people around here refer to D.C. as such is in the statement “Those clowns down in Washington…” or something when referring to the latest political scandal.

  31. tkozikow says:

    @SeraSera: While I don’t remember the Consumerist post, we recently purchased spare eyeglasses for our contact lens wearing daughters for about 40% of what our optometrist charges AFTER insurance adjustments. We are using leftover medical FSA dollars to pay for them since Costco does not take insurance. The frame selection is somewhat limited, but we have nothing but good things to say about the experience.

  32. EtherealStrife says:

    First off: Washington is a state, and it is not our nation’s capital.

    Moving on. Susan sounds like the douchebag, not her clients. She probably shops at Costco for catering, and now that she’s no longer able to pocket the difference she’s throwing a fit. That, or she’s no longer receiving the kickbacks she gets from local bakeries. Whatever the reason, it seems to me her fit is over lost revenue and not over the trend itself.
    The clients are probably just trying to save money. Why pay more when it tastes the same?

  33. MickeyMoo says:

    re: Costco/Amex – if you get the Costco Branded Amex card, you get 1% back in CASH at the end of the year (3% on eating out 2% on some other things, travel i think) They waive the yearly Amex membership fee but you still get all the customer service perks you would with a standard Amex card (i’m sure they treat Gold/Plat/Black card holders a little better)

    They extend the warranty on Electronics to 2 years but still offer a VERY liberal 90 day return policy – Try that at WorstBuy and Circuit$hitty)

    I think I recoup my membership fee in 2 trips of moderate shopping. The onsite baked goods while certainly not “artisan” quality – beat the heck out of anything you can get at a national chain (yes Safeway – i refer to YOU and that glop you have the nerve to call fresh baked bread)

  34. Mojosan says:

    I love Costco. If you have a baby, you can save serious $$$.

  35. Greeper says:

    That COSCO is closing soon and being torn down.

  36. hollerhither says:

    @Egakino: Yes! ITA.

    The article isn’t criticizing everyday folks for shopping at Costco. It’s not criticizing Costco. It’s not criticizing Consumerist commenters… It *is* saying that rich people are following a “trend” of trying to pawn off cheap Costco appetizers as expensive catered items, asking the catering companies to serve them as their own. These are people who can afford caterers… “Douchebags” seems entirely appropriate.

    (And btw the Times Style section is indeed pretty douchey itself — crappy “trend” reports that have nothing to do with much outside the elite bubble. I do my best to avoid it when reading the rest of the paper/site.)

  37. kimsama says:

    @EtherealStrife: Actually, the city was named Washington waaaay back in 1791, over 100 years before the state of Washington came into existence.

    The state could have picked another name if it wanted to avoid confusion. Most people I’m friends with from the state are cool about it like Mary. Go Mary.

  38. iaintgoingthere says:

    @Mojosan: or not have any babies and spend $$$ on yourself

  39. DAK says:

    @tkozikow: Are you sure? I got eyeglasses at Costco about 2 months ago, and they took my insurance with no problem. They don’t accept insurance for the eye exam, but that’s because those are independent contractors that basically rent the space.

  40. kimsama says:

    @Greeper: OH NOES! I thought that the Costco was staying, a la this story. I hope it does…

  41. meeroom says:

    I must say, I love Costco, I get warm fuzzies when I go in because the staff at mine (NJ) seem very happy and are always nice and helpful, and I don’t have to feel like I’m contributing to the downfall of American society by shopping at WalMart.
    And their spinach artichoke dip is yum yum, as are their rotisserie chickens.

  42. DrGirlfriend says:

    Yeah, again, the issue is not slamming Costco. It’s pointing out that well-to-do people are shopping at Costco and asking caterers to serve this stuff **as if** the food came from pricey caterers. They may think Costco is “all that”, but they think it in private, and are going to great lengths to hide it and preserve a hoity-toity image.

    Serve Costco food on your own nice flatware, hire some servers to serve it, and bypass the caterers entirely. Why would caterers who who make their own food and base their business around it want a product being served under their name that they didn’t make?

  43. dotorg greg says:

    there was an article in Slate during the 04 election that made a red state/blue state comparison between Wal-Mart and Costco.

    Which immediately came to mind because the “elites” mentioned in the NYT story were conservative Establishment wingnuts like Reagan speechwriter Sally Quinn and Iraq warmonger Richard Perle. Who apparently prefers Costco’s liberally tainted chanterelles and shiitake mushrooms to Wal-Mart’s ideologically correct ones.

  44. ShadowArmor says:

    I’m with you serasara — I work down the street from the PC costco and I stop in all the time for DVDs and this and that.

    From a business standpoint, it would be suicide for a caterer to serve food that it didn’t do itself. If she caters to the elite and charges as such, why would she want to accept what would amount to a huge rate cut.

    Or perhaps she’s just afraid that this one client figured out that the caterer herself is buying costco food and passing it off as her own? Perhaps she is afraid the clients will discover they just plain don’t need her at all.

    Cleo McDowell: King, try one of these pigs in a blanket. Now they’re the frozen kind, but you’d never know!

  45. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    The best thing about the article (and that no one has pointed out yet) is that no one has been able to conclusively tell the difference in the quality of the food between Costco and the expensive caterers despite the huge price difference.

    Which just goes to show that blowhards like Susan Lacz are really in trouble. No wonder she refuses to serve Costco food, then her clients may realize there is no difference between her food and Costco’s food.

  46. TechnoDestructo says:

    I went to DC for the first time to fail the Foreign Service exam, and I’m glad I did fail.

    I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s just something CREEPY about the people I saw walking around there.

  47. The Count of Monte Fisto says:

    @TechnoDestructo: I suggest you stay away from New York, also.

  48. spinachdip says:

    I can’t put my finger on it either, but Washingtonians, especially the K Street types, do come off a bit creepy. New Yorkers can be rough around the edges or snotty as fuck, but they certainly aren’t creepy.

    I get the sense that Washingtonians can’t wait to leave but too attached to the money or the power, so they put up a front of urbanity. They’d much rather be driving minivans and eating at Applebees.

  49. Consumer-X says:

    Costco and its clone Sam’s Club are both excellent for food shopping. They both sell higher quality meats and produce (at cheaper prices)than most supermarkets. I have been disappointed with BJ’s Wholesale Club because they seem to offer slightly less quality at good but not great prices.
    I agree with the several esteemed commenters above that the article’s focus is not shopping at Costco but rather those customers who try to get caterers to pass off the cheap food their expensive fare. The caterers though come across as big babies who have been indulged and spoiled for too long. They should stop whining and just serve what their paying customers want them to.

  50. DAK says:

    @TechnoDestructo: You’re right about the creepiness. That’s especially harsh coming from a commenter named after a GWAR character.

  51. EtherealStrife says:

    @kimsama: Fair enough. But it still annoys the hell out of me trying to differentiate when people are too lazy to add a pair of letters to the end, or prefer “Washington” to simply “DC”. I too spent a few years in the gloomy north (Redmond), and to me “Washington Elite” = current/former Microsoft Employee (see: millionaire). Not because I believe it, but because they do.

  52. kracer22 says:

    after I get my 50 gallon of mayonaise.. I’m boycotting costco!

  53. pyloff says:

    @MBZ of course… I don’t remember the correct card. Obviously I’m not a member.