Nearly every type of food service business needs an ice machine. Because there are so many different configurations and styles available, it's important to understand what is available, and what will work best for your business' needs.
While there are variations within each type, commercial ice machines generally fall into three basic styles.
1. Modular, or Ice Machine Head
Modular ice machines are commonly available in 22", 30" and 48" widths, and are designed to sit on top of an ice machine bin, an ice machine dispenser, or a soda dispenser. Ice outputs range from 250 lbs. per day to well over 1000 lbs. per day.
2. Undercounter Ice Machines
For small bars, cafes, or businesses that don't need as much ice, an undercounter, or self-contained ice machine may be all that's needed. They combine the ice machine with a storage bin, and fit under most 40" high counters. Ice outputs generally top out at about 350 lbs. per day, though a few higher capacity models do exist.
3. Countertop Ice Dispenser / Makers
These compact units are often found in health care settings, and may dispense water too. They have a small bin but can still produce up to 400 lbs. of ice per day. They also usually dispense nugget style ice, which is easier to chew.
Understanding the different types of ice that commercial ice machines can produce will help you choose the right type for your needs.
Cube Ice is most common in the industry; Many manufacturers offer "Full" (approximately 7/8" x 7/8") or "Half" (half of full) size cube machines. Cube ice melts more slowly than other forms, making it suitable for long cold holding times and possibly reducing customers' ice consumption.
Nugget Ice also melts slowly, and is often found in health care applications due to its soft, chewable texture.
Flake ice machines produce small, soft flakes of ice that cool product rapidly, and mold to any shape, making flake ice popular for produce displays, meat & seafood displays, salad bars, and blended cocktails.
Once you've decided what type of machine and ice you want, the next important consideration to make is whether you want an air-cooled, water-cooled, or remote compressor.
Air cooled ice machines are often the most cost-effective type of ice machine, as they do not involve any additional water costs. Many air cooled models even achieve Energy Star Compliance. Air cooled condensers do need at least 6" of clearance around air intake and discharge areas, but they are a good choice for the majority of users.
A water cooled ice machine is a better choice than an air cooled model only if one or more of the following conditions exists:
The machine would be installed where ambient air temperatures are greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit
The machine would be installed in an area where the air contains a high level of contaminants, like grease
The machine would be installed in an area with poor air circulation or limited space where clearance limitations of an air cooled machine could not be met
Again, unless one or more of the above conditions exist, a water-cooled machine is probably not the best choice, since water consumption will be much higher than with an air cooled ice machine. In fact, some municipalities do not even allow the use of a water cooled ice machine for that reason!
With remote condenser ice machines, the condenser is air cooled, and mounted outdoors, usually on a roof. Refrigerant lines run between the condenser and the machine. As a result, a remote condensing ice machine will be much quieter than its air or water-cooled counterparts.
However, installation and maintenance of a remote setup can be much more costly, and a remote condenser ice machine is usually only chosen if conditions prohibit the use of an air cooled or water cooled unit.
Once you've settled on the type of ice machine you need and the type of ice you want, you must select the machine whose production capacity meets your needs.
It's also important to keep in mind that ambient temperature and ventilation considerations will affect the maximum output of any ice machine. This type of information is usually available on the manufacturer's Specification Sheet.
For new businesses: Make sure your estimates allow for growth, or you could quickly exceed the production capacity of the machine you wish to purchase.
For replacement ice machines: Did your current ice machine keep up with demand? If not, you will need to evaluate how much capacity you were lacking and factor that into your calculations.
Ice consumption at peak times should be considered, as well as any possibility for a future increase in demand. It's always better to have extra ice on hand than to rely on a machine that is too small to meet your needs.
Consider purchasing several smaller ice machines rather than one large, centralized model.
If you only have one large machine in the back of the kitchen, its bin is constantly being opened by servers and kitchen staff to transport ice where they need it, from soda machines to under-bar ice chests to salad bars and more. That's a lot of opportunities for cross-contamination, not to mention it's inefficient!
Maximize your efficiency and sanitation.
Installing a smaller machine to mount on top of your soda machine, a small under bar unit, and a small machine and bin for placement near your salad bar, you'll always have ice right where you need it! Plus, a machine mounted on top of the soda machine ensures that you'll be following the FIFO (first-in-first-out) principle since the oldest ice will always be dispensed first!
The Following Sizing Guide includes a 20% Safety Factor
Application Sizing Guide
(daily ice use)
(Figures are in lbs. & include a 20% safety factor)
1.5 lbs ice per meal sold
3.0 lbs ice per seat
6 oz. ice per 12 oz. glass
35 lbs. of ice per cubic foot
5 oz. ice per 7-10 oz. cup
8 oz. ice per 12-16 oz. cup
12 oz. ice per 18-24 oz. cup
5 lbs. per hotel room
1 lb. per person
10 lbs. per person
1 lb. per person served
Other Factors to Consider
Space and Placement: Make sure you have enough space for the machine, bin, and filter. Adequate air flow is crucial for maximum ice production. Carefully considering the placement of the machine and bin can also increase worker productivity and efficiency.
Water Supply & Floor Drain: Of course your ice machine will need a cold water supply with a shutoff valve. A floor drain is needed too. Check your local codes for specific drain type and placement requirements.
Power Supply: Many ice machines do not come with a cord and plug, so a visit from your electrician will be needed to hard wire the machine. Make sure you understand and can meet the machine's power requirements—not all machines operate on standard 110V electric. Electrical requirements and any other special installation considerations will always be found on the machine's Specification Sheet.
The All-Important Ice Machine Filter
To prolong the life of your ice machine, as well as increase your customers' satisfaction (remember, ice is food), we recommend using a water filter with every ice machine, because it will reduce the buildup of mineral deposits within the machine. The benefits of using a water filter with your ice machine cannot be understated, but here are just a few:
Better tasting beverages
Higher ice production
Lower energy usage, since the ice machine can work more efficiently
Longer ice machine life
We carry two sizes of ice machine filter kits that will work with all the ice machines we carry. They are linked at each machine's Companion Items.
Bins and Accessories
Ice Machine Bins and Bin Adapters
With most of our ice machines, we have listed several compatible ice machine bins under the Companion Items section. Your specific needs will dictate which bin is the best choice, which is why it is important to carefully consider your needs.
If you choose a bin whose capacity is too large for your needs, you'll end up wasting a lot of money in melted ice at the bottom. Plus, all that melting ice can become an unsanitary breeding ground for bacteria and mold.
If too small of an ice machine bin is chosen, you'll constantly be exhausting the supply in the bin and very likely exceeding the production capacity of the ice machine as well.
Bin Adapters are used in several situations. We stock several bin adapters, designed for situations #1 and #2 below. Keep in mind that many more types of adapters are available for very specific situations, and are often listed on the manufacturer's Specification Sheet. Examples of when a bin adapter is needed include:
Installing a small ice machine on a big bin. For example, if your restaurant is busiest on the weekend, you might need 900 lbs. of ice, but not nearly that much during the week. A small 22" ice machine, with an adapter on a 48" wide bin will allow the ice machine to gradually fill up the large bin over the course of the week so you're fully stocked for the weekend rush.
Installing an ice machine on top of an ice dispenser.
Installing one brand of ice machine on a different brand of ice machine bin.
Ice Machine Cleaner
Our Noble Chemical Arctic Ice Machine Cleaner removes mineral buildups in ice machines which can lead to bacterial contamination. It's safe for use in all ice machines, and protects nickel and tin-plated evaporators.
These two products go hand-in-hand. We all know that we're not supposed to scoop ice out of the bins with cups or our hands. Stop getting written up by your local health inspector and purchase the right accessories, and make sure your employees use them! We have a great selection of products to choose from!
Receive our articles, guides, and measurement charts via RSS feed