Costco's $1.50 hot dog and drink are advertised at the...

Costco's $1.50 hot dog and drink are advertised at the Commack store on Feb. 9. Credit: Newsday / Lawrence Striegel

Back in the day, we celebrated a family Valentine’s Day at the reknowned Peter Luger’s Steakhouse in Great Neck.

This year, the stock market is unstable and money is tight, so when three generations of our family gather in Florida for Valentine’s Day, we’re planning a bargain surf-and-turf lunch — at Costco.

The surf is free samples of Maine Lobster Spread on a multigrain cracker. The turf costs. We’ll order foot-long hot dogs on a delicious roll with all the toppings for a buck-fifty. The price includes a 20-ounce fountain drink (with one legal refill, but nobody is ratting you out if you have two).

Timing is everything. We’ll arrive at a Costco store not far from West Palm Beach before the noon rush, when the line at the food counter grows longer than at the registers.

We want a table for the holiday, away from the garbage cans, close to the relish bar, which has two types of mustard, along with ketchup, relish, and let’s hope hope they don’t run out of sauerkraut. (There are always chopped onions, but on Valentine’s Day, we want to be kissing sweet, so maybe the onions are a no-no.) And we’ll bring wipes in case prior romantics didn’t clean the table before they left.

Rozzie and Richie, old friends from Dix Hills who now live in North Palm Beach, heard that we’re going to Costco for Valentine’s Day and gave us a strategy.

“Each of you take a wagon filled up with nonperishables, so it looks like you’re actually shopping and not just schnorring snacks,” Rozzie said. “And try not to make eye contact with the servers, so they don’t remember you when you ask for seconds.”

Then Rozzie revealed her sampling technique.

“Never go solo,” she said.

When she takes two samples, and the server raises an eyebrow, she adds, “The second is for my husband.” And it is.

If the freebie is really yummy, like mozzarella topped with salsa, she sends Richie and his wagon back for more. Rozzie bragged that she hasn’t asked a stranger to act as a shill . . . yet.

Once after a particularly delicious morsel at one of Costco’s Italy Day road shows (a road show is when an independent contractor provides samples), Rozzie took a few laps around the aisles, cart full of decoys, and felt bold enough to try for a third round of salami when the server called her out.

“You’re really enjoying yourself today,” he announced, holding a tray of marinated red peppers practically under her nose.

She wanted to say something witty, but she was chewing pecorino cheese and couldn’t get the words out.

“I hope you’re going to buy something,” he said, passing her a napkin and adding sarcastically, “if you haven’t ruined your appetite already.”

She was embarrassed, but kept chewing. Rozzie says the surf — the lobster spread — usually can be sampled on Fridays. This year, Valentine’s Day is on a Thursday, so unless we get lucky, our surf is going to be smoked whitefish spread or morsels of herring in cream sauce.

When it’s time for dessert on Valentine’s Day, we’ll want chocolate. If we get lucky, there will be samples of Belgian butter cookies dipped in dark chocolate. And we won’t feel guilty eating it, because as Woody Allen predicted, dark chocolate is now a health food. On the other hand, if the samples are made of milk chocolate, we’ll still go for it. Because on Valentine’s Day, even when you’re with people you love, sample beggars can’t always be choosers.

Reader Carol Cott Gross lives in East Northport. Her son David Gross lives in Los Angeles.

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