WebstaurantStore / Food Service Resources / Beverage Equipment / Soda Dispenser and Bag-In-Box Buying Guide
fork and pencil
Soda Dispenser and Bag-In-Box Buying Guide

Soda Dispenser and Bag-In-Box Buying Guide

From high-end restaurants to crowded bars to small town diners, serving ice cold beverages is made simple with the right soda dispenser. The high profit margins, quick-dispensing convenience, and large variety of flavor options make soda dispensers a favorite for both owners and guests.

Soda Machine Mounting Style

The mounting style of a soda dispenser refers to more than just how the machine is installed. The shape of the machine, how ice is dispensed/served, where it is placed, and even how it functions are all linked to the mounting style, making this one of the first features to consider when shopping for a soda machine. Before installing, ensure that you have enough back-room space for the CO2 tank, BIB syrups, and ice bins, and check for easily accessible water supply lines and electrical outlets that are compatible with the machine.
Restaurant Equipment

Countertop Soda Machines

 Countertop dispensers are the ideal choice for front-of-house, self-serve operations.

  • Simple installation
  • Perfect for self-serve operations
  • Conveniently dispense ice with top mounted ice bin
  • Can be paired with automatic ice makers

Restaurant Equipment

Drop-In Soda Machines

Drop-in dispensers are perfect for bartenders and servers, dispensing below countertop-level.

  • Conveniently fits into a countertop or bar
  • Cost-efficient and reliable
  • Bottom mounted ice bin for easy scooping

 

Dispenser Style

Typically in the form of a lever or push button, dispenser styles each have their own pros and cons and are usually independent of the list price, though lever dispensers are more popular due to their sanitary benefits. However, both styles get their job done effectively so it's just a matter of deciding which fits your unique business preferences.
Restaurant Equipment

Lever Dispenser

The primary advantage of a lever-activated dispenser is its hands-free, sanitary push function.

  • Cup directly contacts lever for minimal contamination

  • Rocking motion reduces spills by guiding the cup to the dispensing valve

Restaurant Equipment

Push Button Dispenser

Push buttons have the advantage when it comes to ease-of-use and convenience.

  • Fast and responsive
  • Finger operation for added control
  • Ability to set cups down while filling

Important Features and Options for Soda Dispensers

Flavor shot soda dispenser

Increased Customization Options for Soda Dispensers

Some soda machine models include what's known as a "Flavor Shot" feature, which allows customers to add shots of tasty flavors to their soft drinks. This feature gives guests the freedom to customize their drink however they prefer with the provided flavor shots, opening up thousands of unique flavor combinations. 

Look for soda dispenser models with multiple valves and flavor shot options, allowing for nearly unlimited customization. In addition to the large amount of flavor options, these machines are compact and often around the same size as a standard beverage dispenser.

Soda machine with LED lighting

Soda Machine LED Lighting and Signage

A great way to increase traffic and advertise specific flavors or brands is to choose a machine that features LED lighting. Many models feature light-up graphics to help draw attention to its refreshing flavors, and some can even be customized to advertise featured beverage brands or your company's signage.



Technical Features of Soda Dispensers

External/Internal Carbonators:
  • Consist of a carbonator tank (combines CO2 and water), water pump, and motor
  • Internal carbonators are space efficient with no external connections required
  • External carbonators are cost-effective, but will take up more space


    • Flex Manifold:
    • Ideal for establishments that frequently change out syrup flavors
    • Functions as an "on/off" switch for carbonated and non-carbonated water
    • Allows for drink flavor and carbonation customization
    • Manifold "plungers" dispense carbonated water when pushed down, and non-carbonated water when pulled out

    Keeping Your Drinks Cold and Refreshing

    By now, you've hopefully developed an idea of which type of beverage dispenser is the right fit for your specific establishment and whoever is operating it. However, before you decide on a model to purchase, you should familiarize yourself with your cooling options and how you can serve consistently cold, refreshing drinks.

    Cold Plates

    Cold plates are included on most machines that include an ice bin. The plates utilize the ice bin's freezing temperatures to cool down product for a refreshing taste. Without a cold plate, carbonated beverages would not be cooled sufficiently and the CO2 gas would escape much quicker, resulting in a flat beverage.

    Internal Refrigerators

    Since cold plates require ice to cool product, any machine without an ice bin typically contains an internal refrigerator to cool beverages instead. Instead of requiring pre-made ice to cool drinks, these units use the internal refrigerator to create their own ice blocks that cool product in a similar fashion to cold plates. Internal refrigerators are a fantastic option for busy commercial environments due to this added convenience, but often come at the cost of not including a dispensable ice feature.
    Restaurant Equipment

    Ice Dispensers

    Unavailable with the drop-in style of soda machines, ice dispensers feed ice from the ice bin directly to the cup. The size of your machine directly correlates to the weight limit and capacity of your ice bin.

    When choosing a machine, it’s important to consider this and analyze what size is suitable for your beverage center setup. Will your countertop support the maximum weight of the ice-filled machine? How much ice do you expect to use and will your preferred size effectively support this?

    Whichever variant of ice you choose to add to your dispenser depends on your ice machine and which shape(s) it produces. If you’re looking to broaden your ice-supplying options with shapes like nugget, gourmet, or Chewblet, consider adding a unique ice machine to complement your soda fountain. Our ice machine buying guide is the perfect resource to help you choose the right machine for your setup.

    Additional Considerations for Soda Dispensers

    ADA compliance logo

    ADA Compliance and Soda Machines

    Another thing to consider when purchasing a commercial soda machine is who the primary users will be. In the case of a front-of-house self-serve machine, it's important to accommodate the possibility of customers with disabilities or restrictions. When shopping for machines, look for those that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most ADA compliant machines feature special extra-long dispensing lever arms, allowing easier operation and dispensing for those who might have trouble reaching standard machines.



    How To Maintain a Soda Machine

    Keeping your machine clean prevents contamination, amplifies the flavor and quality of each beverage, and ensures that your machine will operate properly. High-use, exposed parts should be cleaned daily to prevent residue buildup. Your machine should be completely cleaned a minimum of once per month, but we recommend setting aside some extra time each week to make sure your entire machine is bacteria- and dirt-free.

    Daily Cleaning:

    • Remove nozzles and diffusers and soak in warm, soapy sanitizing solution; scrub clean with soft-bristle brush, rinse, and let dry
    • Wash and rinse the drip tray and backsplash
    • Wash entire exterior to remove any dust, dirt, and splash residue

    • Weekly or Monthly Cleaning:

      • If your model includes an ice bin and/or ice dispenser, empty the ice bin and clean the inside as well as the ice chute (if applicable)
      • Clean syrup connectors - Remove connectors, shake out any remaining liquid, soak in cleaning solution, rinse, and reconnect
      • Flush syrup lines - Fill a sanitized bucket with warm cleaning solution, remove syrup lines from all BIB syrups, place opened line valves in cleaning solution, and activate dispensers to completely flush the lines with cleaning solution. Repeat multiple times and finish with a rinsing flush
      • Check for proper dispensing and taste test the product before making accessible to customers to ensure a quality experience

      • Check your unit's technician handbook or installation guide for detailed disassembly and sanitizing instructions. Here are some recommended basic household supplies for your machine:
    Noble Sunbright dish soap

    Mild Detergents and Soaps

    We offer a wide variety of dish washing soaps and detergents to help make the cleaning process a breeze. Allowing components to soak in a solution of warm water and detergent will help soften and remove built-up syrup residue, keeping your machine sanitary and safe for use.

    Scotch Brite Sponge

    Soft Bristle Brushes or Soft Scrub Pads

    Using a soft sponge or scrub pad ensures you can quickly remove any stains on the exterior of your machine without creating scratches that trap bacteria and dirt. Soft bristle brushes are perfect for cleaning parts with hard-to-reach crevasses that collect residue, such as the diffusers and nozzles.

    Knuckle Buster Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

    Absorbent Cloths

    Follow up your scrubbing and rinsing with a soft, absorbent microfiber cloth to remove any remaining residue, soap solution, or warm water. Our selection of microfiber cleaning towels allows you to choose a variety of sizes and colors to suit your individual needs.

    Bag-in-Box Syrups

    Now that you've chosen the soda fountain machine of your dreams, it's time to begin deciding which bag-in-box (BIB) syrups are right for your business and how you can easily create the perfect dispenser setup. Understanding the components of a BIB and dispensing system is essential to properly designing and assembling your own.



    How to Choose the Right Bag-in-Box Flavors

    The flavors you use are completely up to you! When picking flavors, try to choose popular crowd-favorites that complement your menu items and that will attract high traffic for maximum sales. Whether you're serving refreshing colas, juice, or signature cocktails, consider manufacturers like Narvon that provide a large selection of popular, high-quality flavors at an affordable price point.



    Bag-in-Box Assembly and Installation

    The next step in assembling your BIB setup is organizing your syrups. Some simple setups with less syrups could be contained in areas as small as the cabinet space underneath a countertop, while other complex setups will need much larger, sometimes remote, locations.

    Syrups can be efficiently organized using a rack. For added convenience and ease of installation, we recommend purchasing a BIB installation kit that includes a sturdy holding rack, syrup pumps, pressure regulators, and any necessary clamps, fittings, and hoses. Including a rack in your system makes replacing syrups a breeze, and some models even feature slanted shelves to allow gravity to help squeeze out every last drop of syrup.



    Connecting Your Syrups

    Now it's finally time to connect your soda fountain syrups to your dispensing machine. As simple as that may seem, there are a few things to consider before you get to work:

    • Make sure your machine is compatible with your selected syrups. For example, a Coca-Cola®-brand soda machine will include nozzles that are made to fit Coca-Cola® brand syrups. If you choose to use another brand of syrup like Narvon, you will need a BIB adapter. Trying to connect incompatible nozzles and syrups could result in leakage and poor syrup dispensing.

    • Ensure your machine is calibrated to dispense the correct water-to-syrup ratio. Pay attention to the recommended dispensing ratio for your specific brand of syrup. While many syrup brands, such as Narvon, are five parts water to one part syrup, other brands' ratios may vary. If your machine is calibrated to dispense a different ratio than what is recommended, your beverages could taste either too watered down or too concentrated.

    • Keep your lines consistent. If you're switching out flavors, don't use the same lines on different syrup flavors. Over time, lines tend to absorb flavors and running a different syrup through the line could contaminate the flavor of the end product.


    Adapting Narvon Bag-in-Box Syrups to Servend Dispensers



    Estimating Soda Machine Costs and Margins

    Soda fountain machines have proven to be a huge factor in driving sales and generating large amounts of profit. Not only are they a convenient way to satisfy customers' thirsts with crowd-favorite soft drinks, these machines are capable of producing fantastic profit margins thanks to their low cost of operation. The easiest way to keep your costs low and margins high is by using Narvon syrups and Choice brand cups, lids, and straws - these brands provide the lowest price point for nearly indistinguishable quality differences from name brands.

    However, with high customer loyalty to brands like Coca-Cola® and Pepsi™, it can often be advantageous to include these popular products in your drink options to satisfy your guests' preferences. For a full bag-in-box capacity and serving size analysis, don't forget to check out our guide on Servings Per 5 Gallon BIB Syrup.

    Calculating your costs is simple when it comes to soft drinks and fountain beverages, especially if you serve your drinks in reusable glass or plastic cups. Additionally, syrup costs are often cut in half when served with ice, allowing for extremely high profit margins. Check out the simple example below to get an idea of what some costs might look like:

    A soft drink priced at $1.00 is served with ice in a reusable 10 oz. plastic cup.

    • 10 oz. soft drink = 1.7 oz. of syrup

    • 1.7 oz. of Narvon cola syrup costs $0.10

    • Ice cuts drink and syrup quantity in half = 0.85 oz. syrup costs $0.05

    • Priced at $1.00, costs $0.05 = 95% profit margin!

    Join Our Mailing List

    Receive coupon codes and more right to your inbox.

    Make money with our recipes
    Recipe converter
    WebstaurantStore blog
    Videos of demonstrations, how-tos and more