Ketchup bottle nuptials breed contempt

During my eight-year tenure as part-time waitress, one of my least favorite restaurant jobs was “marrying” the ketchup bottles at shift’s end. This time-consuming, nerve-wracking job had to be done or the world, as we knew it, would surely come to an end.

My role as world savior was to take the glass ketchup bottles with the lesser amounts and prop them up against the wall on a shelf where they would drain neatly into bottles that contained more ketchup. At least that’s how it would work in a perfect world. But in my flawed restaurant universe, I’d end up with a major mess, sticky red stuff oozing down the sides of bottles. And someone always toppled my bottles.

When a ketchup bottle breaks, it defies all laws of physics. Anyone who’s ever cleaned up a shattered bottle of ketchup from a tiled restaurant cooler floor knows the amount spilled and splattered exponentially exceeds the original amount in the bottle. While I’m no scientist, I believe the formula would read something like S + S > O.

The only thing worse than being the one to break a bottle of ketchup on the cooler floor is being the one to find an anonymously broken bottle. The act of discovery obligates you to perform the cleanup, without the satisfaction of seeing and hearing the bottle break, which can be quite entertaining, provided it does not occur during a lunch or dinner rush.

The right to perform ketchup marriage rites led to silent nuptials I’d run through my head as I married the bottles, sugar and creamer packets bearing witness. “ . . . for richer, for pourer . . . in thickness and in stealth.” Boredom begets such babbling.

There was also an incestuous quality about ketchup marrying, as all bottles came from the same parent company. I was surprised to read on the labels they hailed from Pennsylvania rather than Arkansas.

Why couldn’t they just elope?

Another baffling aspect about ketchup bottle marrying was restaurant owners’ willingness to shell out $5 in employee wages to save 50 cents in product. You’d think ketchup was a highly valuable commodity, like the skin care products guarded behind the counter at Hudson’s, Marshall Field’s, Macy’s or whatever they’re calling that place this week.

One day I questioned a restaurant manager about it.

“WHY do we marry the bottles of ketchup each night?” he boomed, unamused by my suggestion we just let them continue to live in sin. “Because nobody wants a half-full bottle of ketchup.”

Well, maybe nobody on Planet Manager. But most earth people agree there’s nothing more frustrating than getting a bottle of ketchup so repressed by its recent vows that nothing comes out. Let’s call it product performance anxiety.

I hate sitting in a restaurant booth, performing a modified Heimlich maneuver on a ketchup bottle, trying to dislodge the darned stuff while my fries grow cold. Finally I hear a nasty plopping sound, half the contents of the bottle fall out onto my coleslaw, and my blouse gets the rest of the fallout. It’s all so easily preventable through NOT marrying the ketchup bottles in the first place.

Why can’t restaurants just leave the ketchup bottles upside down on the tables to let gravity assist, like shampoo bottles in the shower? 

“That would not look classy,” said my manager.

Classy?! We’re talking a place that serves ketchup!

Apparently, we food servers were entrusted to be protectors of public perception and keepers of the sacred ketchup compact, knowledge of which is sworn to secrecy: Ketchup bottles are not always full. Shhhhhh.

Santa may be unsleighed, the Easter Bunny unmade, and the Tooth Fairy belief decayed by the end of childhood, but our food service mission was to ensure adult diners carried to the grave the illusion of the perpetually full ketchup bottle.

Naturally, I rejoiced when one of the major ketchup brands began selling its product in red, ketchup-colored plastic containers. Not the marrying kind. Victory for the bachelor ketchup bottle lobby!

I had to conclude much of life is like a bottle of ketchup: Rarely all that it seems, occasionally more, and regularly messy.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. carolcovin
    May 22, 2012 @ 07:04:13

    Love your sense of humor!


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