How to Choose a Commercial Ice Machine

Every type of conceivable foodservice operation has one, but few people give them much thought until they don’t work… Believe it or not, but the inconspicuous restaurant ice machine is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment you will have in any commercial kitchen. From cooling beverages, to quickly chilling soups and stock, to keeping your expensive seafood inventory fresh, investing in a quality restaurant ice machine is a good idea, no matter how you intend to use it.

Restaurant ice machines are relatively simple pieces of equipment… They make ice. That’s it! Every manufacturer believes their approach to making this simple ingredient is best, and some have actually computerized the process, if you can believe that. We’ve outlined how to select the size of your restaurant ice machine in our post “Commercial Kitchen Ice Machine Guidelines” but here we will review a few of the options you have when selecting a unit that is best for your concept.

Cube Size and Style

Full dice, half dice, crescent moon, nugget or flake… Those are essentially the choices you have when selecting a commercial ice machine, so a quick review is in order to explain which type is for what purpose.

  • Dice and Moon Ice Cubes: These ice machine cube types are what you will find in 90% of all commercial kitchens. Fast food restaurants have actually used scientific calculations to determine what ice-cube type and size is best, based on the beverages they supply. But there is no need to go to that extent for your operation; unless you’re starting a fast food franchise concept that is… It seems obvious enough, but the larger the cube, the slower it melts. This is helpful to prevent drinks from quickly being watered down, or keeping an ice bath colder longer.
  • Nugget Style: These cubes are favored by the “slushy” industry since they melt relatively quickly, giving their style of drink a “slushy” consistency. Some fast food restaurants will also use them to water down their soft drinks relatively quickly, which reduces the amount of actual beverage poured into the cup. This type of ice is also favored in hospital settings for patients to chew on.
  • Flake Ice: This type of ice is used in some specialty frozen desert manufacturers, but mostly it is used for creating ice baths for seafood and other delicate items that need to be kept cold.


Compressor Style

A restaurant ice machine will typically come with 3 options for a type of compressor. Air cooled, water-cooled and remote compressor installation. A restaurant ice machine is not much unlike a compressor for a refrigerator or freezer. These compressors need to be kept cool so that they do not overheat and each type of installation has its benefits and drawbacks, based on the installation situation.

  • Air cooled compressors use the air surrounding the ice machine to keep the compressor cool, and is most often the restaurant ice machine model of choice. This type of commercial ice maker needs plenty of clearance around the unit and a large amount of reasonably cool air for it to work properly. Obviously putting this type of ice machine next to something that generates heat is not a good idea to ensure it operates at peak efficiency. These are the most common and least expensive type of ice machine to install. Drawbacks include requiring an adequate amount of clearance around the unit and the compressor on the unit itself does generate heat like a refrigerator would, so being in an enclosed area, or in an already tight kitchen may make the environment even more uncomfortable.
  • Water cooled compressors are exactly that. Water is flushed throughout the unit to keep the compressor cool and dissipate the heat on any style of restaurant ice machine. These types of units were very prone to malfunction just a few years ago, but with that it no longer the case today. Drawbacks include higher installation cost due to the additional water line required and in areas where water service is expensive, may incur a higher utility cost long-term.
  • Remote compressors are becoming more and more popular with our clients as we specify their restaurant ice machine. The compressor for these units are many times located outside the building, in the same way we would remote the compressor for a walk-in refrigerator. The benefits are that there is almost no heat generated around the ice machine itself, the clearances around the unit are minimized to simply needing access for service and cost operation is minimized since we typically have access to greater voltage capacities, thus reducing overall power needed for the unit. Drawbacks include a higher installation cost since an HVACR technician is needed to run the refrigeration lines, and if the compressor is placed in an inconvenient location, servicing the unit could be challenging.

Regardless of the type of restaurant ice machine you select, it is also very important to make sure you invest money in quality water filters. Using a quality water filter will make your beverages taste better and with proper maintenance, will increase the usable life of the unit. Not installing a filter may in many cases void the manufacturers warranty.

There are many other options available for today’s foodservice operator such as computerized cleaning cycles, error alarms and one manufacturer even has an app that you can add to your smart phone to monitor your system. With the vast array of options for today’s restaurant ice machine, Contact a Mise Designs restaurant kitchen design consultant to help guide you thought the process of selecting the unit that is right for your new restaurant or commercial kitchen.

Related blog posts we think you might also find helpful.

Equally as important when looking at the kitchen is how it relates to other areas of your project so we also suggest you read our posts about overall restaurant interior design.

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