As the months start to warm up and you prepare your kitchen for the summer season, you’re probably starting to think about ice machines. If you already have one, you might be wondering if it’s still the right model and size for you. If your business has grown in the past year then it may not be up to your new summer demand, or if you’ve had your ice machine a while it might not be as efficient as it could be. Maybe you don’t have an ice machine at all yet, and you’re looking to expand your menu and grow your summer trade this year.
Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that any kitchen could benefit from the new drink and food possibilities afforded by an ice maker. While these powerful machines can certainly help you to expand your menu and grow your business, as a dedicated piece of equipment they aren’t necessarily the most popular. Many companies manage without them and struggle with other ways to make any ice they need rather than invest in a separate ice machine.
If you’re a new business or you’ve just been putting off finally buying your own ice maker, you may be a bit confused by some of the options available. To help you figure things out and get the best value for money, our commercial ice maker buying guide is here to set things straight. From crystal clear cubed ice to keeping that limescale at bay, we’ve covered everything you need to know before choosing your professional ice machine.
What you need your ice machine for
As always when buying any new catering equipment, you first need to have a clear idea of what you’ll be using it for in your business. This will depend on your business itself such as your current offering and any potential additions to your menu in the future. These needs will help to immediately narrow down your search, so you can start focusing on the fun features.
There are loads of reasons you might need or want to add a commercial ice machine to your kitchen, all of which can affect the following features and additions you’ll need.
- Customer self-service – if you’re growing your cafeteria or buffet service then you’ll need an ice machine that customers can use themselves.
- High-end cocktails and drinks – one of the main reasons for needing an ice machine is for drinks. As well as bars, restaurants and even events companies may need their own ice machine, so they can make better quality drinks with crystal clear cubed ice.
- In the kitchen – this includes behind the scenes and at displays like you might find at a fishmongers. Chefs often need ice to blanch vegetables while catering companies may need ice for some transportation and display purposes.
Types of ice
Once you know what you’ll need your commercial ice maker for, you can start to narrow down your search further. The type of ice will be highly dependent on what it’s being used for, the most popular being cubed ice.
You can get full or half cubed ice. As a general-purpose type of ice, it is one of most popular although it is usually used in drinks. The cubed shape means they take longer than most other types of ice to melt and many machines will boast a high-quality clear type of cubed ice that is popular for bars and restaurants that may have a more luxury cocktail menu.
Crescent shaped ice
Many of our machines also produce a crescent shaped ice which is another popular general-purpose shape. This type of ice is used for a variety of purposes including post-mix soft drinks, transportation, display and even laser therapy. For ice you’ll be predominantly serving in drinks and cocktails we always recommend a quality cubed ice, but if you’ll be using your ice for a variety of purposes or just for display and transportation, go for crescent.
Flaked and bullet
You can also get flaked and bullet ice that are both usually used for display, particularly of fish and other seafood. These types of ice are better for making a cool bed and shaping around food, and can also prevent freezer burn. It’s typically softer ice or “chewable” ice that can be used in healthcare as well as in blenders.
Manual and mains ice machines
While you can find manual ice machines, we also recommend the automatic ones that you connect to mains supplies. A manual ice machine is typically more compact and can be moved around easily as you manually refill the water reservoir, something which is usually only suitable for hotel rooms or much smaller ice needs.
Our automatic machines use an electricity and water supply to consistently deliver you ice throughout the working day. These are by far the most efficient option and the only suitable choice for any bar, restaurant or catering kitchen that will be serving drinks and food. Remember, you will need to think about the quality of the water going into the machine. A water softener and a filter will both be needed to make sure you get the best quality ice suitable for serving.
Size and positioning
How you use your machine and whether it is a mains machine or not will also affect where you want to position it and subsequently the size of the machine itself. Remember that your ice will begin to lose its temperature as soon as it is removed from the bin, so you’ll want to position the machine as close to where you need it as possible. If that’s for blanching in the kitchen, then put in the kitchen. If you’ll be making cocktails and drinks, you’ll need it closer to the bar.
Additionally, if you opt for the better quality and more efficient mains machine it will also need to be attached to both electricity and water supply. This shouldn’t be a problem in the bar or kitchen areas, but you may have other equipment to contend with as well.
Once you have the perfect position figured out, you can start to look at size. We’ll look at capacity next, which may also impact the size of machine you need but generally speaking, you’ll be restricted by the bar size and kitchen space you have. Fortunately, we stock many under counter models that have been perfectly designed to deliver high ice demands in a compact size to fit under your bar counter.
Air or water cooled
This refers to the way in which the compressor is cooled and is vital to a machine that runs efficiently. It is almost entirely dependant on where you are putting your ice machine.
This type of machine uses vents to draw in air from surrounding area to cool the compressor and work efficiently. The surrounding area, therefore, needs to be spacious with good air flow, and relatively free of contaminants and obstructions. A spacious bar area, for example, could manage with one of these machines.
A water-cooled ice machine uses a water supply to cool the compressor. In the long run, this is more expensive as it is relying on a constant supply of water to run efficiently but makes up for this by being much more versatile in terms of positioning. Unlike an air-cooled machine, it can be placed in closed spaces where the temperature is warmer and even inconsistent, such as kitchens or small enclosed bar areas.
This will simply come down to what you need the machine for and how much of it you’ll be doing every day. Bars will usually need higher capacity machines as they serve sometimes hundreds of drinks a day, while others may find they use their machine more occasionally. When working out your daily capacity needs, remember to consider seasonality. Running out of ice during a summer heat wave could cost you customers and money, so look at your daily figures from the previous summer and add 10% - 30% for contingency and depending on your business growth.
3oz – 5oz = average cocktail: around 10kg per 100 drinks
10oz = average soft drink: 22kg per 100 drinks
20oz = average pint: 44kg per 100 drinks
This is only an estimate and will depend on your business but based on this our 95kg/24hr machine would be sufficient for 200-pint sided drinks every day.
This mostly comes down to the features you want or need to fulfil your demands. While you may want to cut costs and reduce spend, especially if you feel you’re willing to sacrifice on some of the bells and whistles, this could actually be a costly mistake in the long run. Extra goodies like foam injected polyurethane for insulation may not seem like a must have at the time, but these special features are designed to keep your machine running efficiently, producing better quality ice and keeping up with demand.
Going for the cheapest machine could mean unexpected breakdowns, additional maintenance and quickly outgrowing your machine. These things will all cost you money, either in upkeep or even in lost custom, so think carefully when buying a commercial ice maker.
Some machines may come with additional cleaning features but remember to consider the exterior of the machine and removable parts for easier cleaning. Remember that ice is food and your machine will need to be looked after for health & hygiene reasons.