/ 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…

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.

Kay martin says:
16 April 2016

Plastic sachets are worse. You have to rip at the corner and if that does not work you have to try with your teeth, not very dignified.

Plastic bottles used for ketchup etc have a somewhat water-repellant surface so that little sticks to the surface and thanks to gravity the ketchup ends up at the bottom of the bottle.

Glass can be treated to make it highly water-repellant. Have a look at this video, from 34s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxyCLoYfexo&ebc=ANyPxKraeImuO4Cqn7e3qyOqJG-0oyVESmEW2eMI8eGVn4FhSmKM4iT3HkeOJf4OdB__foCEMUa7KczMgqfW24mN9Q5YSl_O5A

I do not understand how this can be described as a new process because silanising glass was a standard technique when I was a young PhD student in the early 70s. Once a glass beaker had been treated (which takes seconds), water could be emptied out leaving the glass completely dry. I guess that the development is to make the water-repellant coating more durable and hopefully it is safe for food use.

What you don’t get with the glass bottle of tomato ketchup is the accidental ‘raspberry’ sound emitted from the plastic type if there is some air in the neck when squeezed. It’s a sort of “Geronimo!” signal to wake the baked beans up and prepare them for service.

You also don’t get the congealed ‘raspberry’ that explodes and splats everywhere when squeezed. 🙂

A sauce in a bottle is not very healthy

I doubt anyone is all that bothered about the health consequences of a dob or two of sauce. You still see the red plastic tomatoes around. The usual way in less reputable establishments was to top them up with vinegar each day till the sauce got unfeasibly runny.

I detest the plastic bottles which I think are unhygienic and are not recyclable. Whenever possible I only buy glass bottles.

I’m throwing it out there… I think ketchup from a glass bottle tastes better.

If it’s as orange as the ketchup in the picture, I’m not so sure 😛

I quite like the ketchup out of the American diner red squeezy bottles. Just something authentic about it:

You might have cropped the photo to remove the mayo, Patrick. Vile stuff. 🙁

You’re right… I dislike two of those bottles.

They are not very authentic Patrick. No sticky fingers marks, transfers intact, no goo round the top, too shiny, no drips down the side……………..

They are just representative, not the real thing, Alfa. With the condiments of the season.

Yeah, I know, take it with a pinch of salt, but twas Patrick that said they were authentic !!!
🍤 🍟 🍔 🍟 🍟

Fair play @alfa 🙂 🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅

Tomato ketchup in whatever container conjures up memories of a business trip to Florida. We were having lunch with a business colleague ‘al fresco ‘ when he picked up a glass bottle of red tomato ketchup, started to shake the hell out of it and hey presto, the cap flew off the bottle and my crisp white blouse was covered in red ketchup! I think his face was almost as red as my blouse! I had no choice other than to abandon my lunch and carry out a quick change of top.

I can safely say from that moment on, I have kept a safe distance from anything on a restaurant table even remotely resembling a sauce bottle.

I find ketchup disgustingly sweet so my interest in it is confined to fluid dynamics. Are there any unsweetened varieties?

So how do you eat chips?

Sweet potato chips taste really nice on their own, but normal potato chips without salt, vinegar, tomato sauce, bbq sauce, mayo or salad cream are not very exciting.

We don’t have chips very often but salt, cheap balsamic vinegar in a spray bottle and tomato sauce to dunk them in is my favourite.

With salt, vinegar and a small haddock, please. Very predictable.

Chips should only be eaten with salt (first) then malt vinegar, and preferably out of a little greaseproof bag in newspaper out in the street.

I cannot understand the way they are spoiled with mayonaise, gravy or curry sauce. 🙁

Haddock is always what we order at the chippy, partly because we like it just as much as cod, but mainly because it usually has to be cooked to order, so you get crisp patter, not something that has been resting in the hot cupboard.

I’m a brown sauce man generally, but I would prefer sauces, like jam, marmalade and butter, to be served in dishes with a spoon, rather than in bottles or sachets, in a restaurant.

Chips with curry sauce from the chinese when the pubs shut………. takes me back a bit 🙂

I have nothing against plastic, but glass is classy and reflects the quality of the establishment. A few taps are generally all you need to coax the scarlet deliciousness out of the bottle. Just don’t get me started on the sachets…

Hazel Lewry says:
18 April 2016

No, no, no to more plastic. Anyway … why would you wan’t to use communal ketchup? Firstly, if a restaurant’s food requires ketchup, it’s not worth eating. And secondly, you talk about sticking your knife inside the bottle to extricate some to spread it on your food. Who’s to say someone else hasn’t already done that … but licked their knife first?

Personally I like the ‘upside down’ sauce dispensers. I use the term ‘upside down’ to describe the container as I see it. The ‘top’ is actually the ‘bottom’ & once opened gravity does the rest to draw the contents down so that they sit on top of the dispenser allowing easy use. Similarly the labels of these containers are also upside down. I also do not favour the use of sauces in small plastic packets (there is a knack to opening these – make sure that the hand that you are using to tear it open is not ‘contaminated’ with the contents or anything else that is greasy).
Does anyone still remember the establishments where you could buy as little or as much as you required contained in a plastic bag that you could decant into a larger ‘stock’ container once you got it home. Unfortunately, no sooner had I had purchased enough ‘stock’ containers to contain the products at home when the shop closed – shame that – as all that you needed to recycle was a few plastic bags.

peterh_oz says:
28 December 2019

Glass is more environmentally friendly than plastic. And like aluminium, it is essentially infinitely recyclable.