/ Food & Drink

Should restaurants ditch the ‘iconic’ glass ketchup bottle?


Why do restaurants and pubs persist with placing glass ketchup bottles on the table? Heinz describes them as ‘iconic’ – I think they’re just ‘awkward’.

Maybe it’s a first-world problem, but it’s one that always gets me in a twist nonetheless. Whenever I’m out for lunch, I come across the glass ketchup bottle and awkwardness always ensues.

According to the timeline on the Heinz website, the glass bottle started to take shape as far back as 1890. ‘The same style bottle can be found today in restaurants across the country’, states the accompanying text. And that’s definitely true.

Bottle blunders

A fun ketchup fact for you: did you know that ketchup exits the glass bottle at .028 miles per hour? Except for when it doesn’t exit the bottle at all – so basically every single time you attempt to use it. This results in a series of embarrassing attempts to coax it out in the most dignified way possible – not an easy task.

Usually this leads to several shakes of the bottle and a few firm taps, before eventually tempting enough sauce towards the top so that it’s possible to make contact with your knife. Congratulations, you can now smear it on your food like butter! And that’s when it goes smoothly… the alternative is much, much worse.

Your taps of the bottle prove so effective that its entire contents rush out (probably somewhat quicker than .028 miles per hour), turning your face as red as your food.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! In 1983 Heinz’s first plastic ketchup bottle hit the shelves – easy to squeeze and with no chance of completely ruining your food.

And if that wasn’t enough, the plastic bottle was given an upgrade in 2002 with the first ever upside-down version. We’d come a long way in 112 years. Another fun ketchup fact for the dinner table: the upside-down innovation reportedly earned its inventor $13m.

End the awkwardness

So why can’t restaurants embrace the plastic bottle and save their customers all the embarrassment and awkwardness? I’ve been told that the glass bottle is classier, more dignified, and of course ‘iconic’. But there’s nothing classy or dignified about the motions it puts you through when you sit down to eat in a public place.

And how upmarket can a restaurant really be where the option to put ketchup on your food (let’s face it – it’s probably chips) exists in the first place? Maybe there’s a darker reason – glass bottles can be washed… might there be some re-filling of the bottles with cheaper alternatives when they’re finished?

Maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but whatever the reason, are you as fed up with the glass bottle as I am?


The customer cannot or has difficulty getting the sauce out of the bottle so it may be in the restaurants favour to have a solid bottle
Certainly if we are buying sauce we would never buy a glass bottle. . . .The squeezy plastic ones are brill


Ketchup behaves as a non-Newtonian fluid that exhibits shear thinning. In order to pour it from the bottle, first shake it well.


…with the lid securely in place 😉


Of course. That would have been taken care of with a risk assessment. 🙂


…and, perhaps, appropriate PPE 🙂


Even having the lid on , doesn’t help sometimes, many many many years ago I remember shaking a bottle, and when I started to undo it, it blew off the top of the bottle and half the contents exploded upward and out. If you look carefully you can see some evidence on the ceiling 40 years later.


Maybe it had started to ferment and the carbon dioxide produced had caused pressure to build up in the bottle. The small print may say that the bottle should be stored in the fridge after opening.

As Derek says, personal protective equipment is the answer.


Very odd. We’ve never, ever been to a restaurant where there are glass ketchup bottles. Don’t really like the stuff, anyway, and I suppose I prefer to taste food, rather than brightly-coloured thickened sugar which could, at a push, double for a prop in a Tarantino production. Are you sure it was a restaurant, George?

And that’s a thought: perhaps they use glass bottle in the places you frequent as substitutes for baseball bats? Lighter to wield, good, meaty impact on the skull, handy to hold – seems Heinz could make a killing in the self-defence department. Though not literally, I hasten to add…


Pretty sure, Ian! I find they’re more common in the restaurant areas of pubs. Maybe I’m just not going upmarket enough.


Having eaten in many a roadside diner/family restaurant/mom&pop diner in the US, the majority of them have glass Heinz ketchup bottles with very faded labels.
What they don’t contain is Heinz ketchup!!!


If you eat in Wetherspoons (and a lot of other places) you have to contend with those dreadful sachets that are often difficult to open without making a mess.

Sauce bottles – especially nice squeezy plastic ones (as DK said) are a much nicer option.

Other places, like Pizza Hut and some of Premier Inn’s pub partners, will bring your sauce and dip dips out to you in small ceramic dishes – another good system.

Then again, as Ian said, if you are actually dining in a nice pub or restaurant, you won’t be needing to smother your food in “marty sauce”.


Wetherspoons have take to using bottles round our way, same with salt and pepper cellars. There are never enough to go round so if it’s busy you have to scout round for the condiments you require before your food comes.


Does any one remember those large tomato-shaped plastic sauce vessels that were all the rage in the 1960/70’s? I think they started life in Wimpy bars but soon ended up in every roadside caff and greasy spoon.

I only anoint my food wih tomato ketchup very occasionally at home [on otherwise uninteresting food like fishcakes which I love despite their unappealing appearance] but I have never had a pouring problem. I open the cap, turn the bottle over, and out comes a dollop of sweet red gloop. I accept what Wavechange has said on the scientific front, but perhaps there can be too much shaking going on in cafés and the sauce loses its flowing properties due to some other performance characteristic; it would not surprise me if, under a more comprehensive examination, the consistency of ketchup and its viscosity were found to have a ‘memory’ that was offended by frequent disturbance and became resistant to it thus inhibiting release from the bottle.

People seem to like fiery sauces nowadays [they must have asbestos throats] but there is no subtlety in them and they probably kill the flavour of the underlying food. If you want to pep-up a ketchup just try putting a little Worcestershire sauce in it.


John – The decrease in viscosity achieved by shaking is short term and the viscosity will return to ‘normal’ soon after shaking.

Non-drip paints are another everyday example of materials that exhibit shear thinning.