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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.
Restaurant Equipment

Countertop Soda Machines

A wide range of useful features, along with the added sanitary benefit of machine-automated ice serving, make countertop dispensers the ideal choice for front-of-house, self-serve operations.

  • Countertop Mountable. Easily one of the most noticeable differences between the two main styles of dispensers, this ability to place the machine on just about any counter space makes these units simple to install and easily accessible to customers.
  • Dispensable Ice. A clear advantage of most countertop machines is the ability to conveniently dispense ice thanks to a top-mounted ice bin. This feature also allows compatibility with automatic ice makers that are staged above the machine to eliminate the need to periodically refill the ice bin manually. 

Restaurant Equipment

Drop-In Soda Machines

With the bulk of operations below countertop-level, low-profile drop-in dispensers are perfect for seamless, spacious integration into bars and counters, which is why you’ll generally see these models being used by bartenders and servers.

  • Space Efficient. The term “drop-in” refers to the ability to install the machine in a hole or gap in countertops, creating ample space for operation and a flush appearance.
  • Simple to Operate. Drop-in machines are very basic in terms of operation and mechanical parts, typically resulting in more cost efficiency and reliability. These machines differ from countertops primarily in the location of the ice bin, which is underneath the dispensers and easily accessible. Since the bin is located below the dispensing valves, ice cannot be dispensed and must be scooped out of the bin manually. 

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. Since the lever makes contact with the cup itself and not any part of the customer, the chance of contaminating cups or drinks becomes minimized and your machine is kept cleaner. The rocking motion of the lever also guides the cup to a position directly underneath the dispensing valve, reducing any chances for spills and messes.

Restaurant Equipment

Push Button Dispenser

While not quite as sanitary as their lever-operated counterparts due to direct contact with customers, push buttons have the advantage when it comes to ease-of-use and convenience. Button-activated dispensers offer fast and responsive dispensing at just the touch of a finger, allowing for easy operation and control. This feature also allows customers to set their cup down while filling for added convenience.

Important Features and Options for Soda Dispensers

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. Machines with this function provide a fantastic way to get the customers involved and helps keep customers happy by allowing them to choose exactly what they want.

Models like the Servend FRP-250 Flav'R Pic have 16 beverage flavors and 8 flavor shots, 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 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 Carbonator: The carbonator is the system that consists of the carbonator tank (where CO2 and water are combined), water pump, and water pump motor. An internal carbonator provides the convenience of not having to worry about connecting an external carbonator and the benefit of being more space efficient, but at the sacrifice of having a steeper price point.

    Alternatively, an external carbonator may save you some capital, but may also be more difficult to install and will take up more space in your operational setup. Depending on your budget and space available, either variant could be the best choice.

  • Flex Manifold: A flex manifold plays a key role for establishments that frequently rotate out syrup flavors. The manifold essentially functions as an "on/off" switch for carbonated and non-carbonated water, giving you the freedom to adjust this feature for individual drink lines according to whatever type of syrup you use and which form of water suits it best. Each line features a corresponding "plunger" on the manifold that dispenses carbonated water when pushed down and non-carbonated water when pulled out, making the switch a simple process.

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 one of the most important features in almost any beverage dispenser. Apart from some electric countertop units that include an internal refrigerator, just about every soda machine includes a cold plate that utilizes the ice bin's freezing temperatures to cool down product and ensure customers receive a quality, refreshing drink. Without a cold plate, carbonated beverages would not be cooled sufficiently and the CO2 gas would escape much quicker, resulting in a flat beverage and dissatisfied customer.

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. Serving the same purpose as a cold plate, these internal refrigerators have the advantage of not needing constant attention and essentially have a self-sustaining cooling process.

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 rely on the force of gravity to feed ice from the ice bin directly to the cup, providing a convenient way to keep customers’ drinks refreshingly cool. 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 making machine and which shape(s) it is capable of producing. 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 and provide a variety of drink-cooling choices to satisfy your guests. 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 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.

Soda Machine Location and Installation

Even if your facility was built to accommodate a soda machine, it's still important to verify your new dispenser system will fit and you have everything you need to create a quality beverage dispenser setup. Prior to purchasing, it'll be helpful to run through the following checklist to ensure everything can be installed smoothly:

  • Will the dimensions of the machine fit the counter or floor space?
  • Do I have enough back-room space for the CO2 tank, BIB syrups, etc.?
  • Do I have easy access to the ice bin for refilling (if necessary)?
  • Do I have easily accessible water supply lines and electrical outlets? If so, are they compatible with my specific machine?

  • If you are unsure of any of this information, you can take a look at the specification sheets and installation guides provided by the manufacturer for your machine of choice.

How To Maintain a Soda Machine

Keeping your machine clean is an essential part of not only preventing contamination and providing your customers with the best experience possible, but also for ensuring your machine continues to operate properly. Daily maintenance cleaning of high-use, exposed parts helps prevent long-term residue build up and ensures your dispenser is clean and ready to use the next day. 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

    • For more detailed instructions on how to properly disassemble and sanitize your machine, be sure check your unit's technician handbook or installation guide. As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to set aside some cleaning supplies near your machine to conveniently provide everything you'll need to make the cleaning process a breeze. Most of these cleaning steps can be completed quickly with basic household supplies:
Primary Use
Mild Detergents and Soaps
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.
Soft Bristle Brush or Soft Scrub Pad
Soft Bristle Brush or Soft Scrub Pad: 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.
Absorbent Cloth
Absorbent Cloth: 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 choose the right or wrong flavors can easily have an impact on your sales, so take some time to analyze which flavors are right for your unique business. 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 deciding how you're going to organize your syrups. Depending on the number of syrups and space available, the best strategy for easy access and syrup replacement will vary. Some simpler setups 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.

Even just a few 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!

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