The pandemic may not be over, but one COVID-19 victim is getting back on its feet: Costco’s food court. Costco is slowly moving toward full operations for what it views as a vital part of its customer experience, CNN reports.

The wholesale retailer's food courts have been largely shut down since March 2020, when the pandemic hit the U.S. in force. Service was takeout only, and the menu options were reduced to hot dogs and pizza.

Now, Costco has begun reintegrating standard items: the chicken bake has reappeared, as well as ice cream and smoothies. Stores with outdoor areas are also once again allowing some sit-down dining.

"I know it sounds crazy making a big deal about a hot dog, but we spend a lot of time on it," Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal said during a 2009 interview with The Seattle Times. "We're known for that hot dog. That's something you don't mess with."

Costco People wait to shop at a Costco store on Feb. 20, 2021, in Austin, Texas Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / JOE RAEDLE

More recent statements from Costco’s CFO Richard Galanti show that the food court’s importance goes beyond branding. The reason its hot dog-soda combo price hasn’t gone up from $1.50 in decades is that it improves the experience, luring customers back for repeat trips.

"We want to catch you either on the way in or out of your Costco shopping experience. You leave the food court satisfied," Galanti said in a 2018 interview.

“The food courts work,” he said Wednesday.

While there’s no solid timeline for when the food courts will reach pre-pandemic running, he fully expects them to get there. "God willing. But it's going to take some time," Galanti said.

Galanti said that free cooked samples would also be making a comeback in stores as normal operations resume.