Ice Machine Buying Guide

Ice Machine Buying Guide

Unless you’re serving nothing but hot coffee and biscuits, every foodservice business needs an ice machine. This staple of the kitchen creates the one food item nearly every customer will order and consume in some form: ice.

Choosing the best restaurant ice machine is no small order, and when navigating dozens of options with different technical specifications, the task can seem daunting. Never fear — we break down the mysteries of ice makers below so you can sort through the choices and make a selection based on your budget, space, and needs.

Types of Commercial Ice Machines
Your commercial ice machine will either be a modular ice machine, an undercounter ice machine, or an ice and water dispenser. The main factors affecting your purchase will be the amount of ice your restaurant or bar uses a day and who will be accessing the ice: customers or staff.

Modular Ice Machines

In simplest terms, modular ice machines sit on top of and supply ice to an ice storage bin, an ice machine dispenser, or a soda dispenser. Modular ice machines generate a large output of ice and connect to a dispenser or bin to store the ice. These machines are stored in the kitchen for staff use.

Modular ice machines are most commonly available in widths of 22”, 30”, and 48” to easily affix to commercial ice bins and dispensers. Models can generate anywhere from 200 to 2,000-plus pounds of ice per day. Units are air-cooled or water-cooled depending on your needs and kitchen environment. Head to the Ice Machine Condensing Units section below to learn more.

For reference, our Ice-O-Matic CIM0520HA Elevation Series Modular Cube Ice Maker measures 22” wide, produces 561 pounds of ice per day, and is air-cooled. Determining your daily ice production needs is vital to choosing ice machines that meet demand while providing the best value for your restaurant or bar.

Undercounter Ice Machines
Compact undercounter ice machines give bars and restaurants high-performance ice production right where it’s needed — under the counter! These smaller options combine the ice machine with the storage bin to fit snugly underneath a bar or counter for quick ice access.

Undercounter ice machines work well in bars and small cafes or coffee shops that don’t require high daily output. Most undercounter ice machines will produce no more than 350 pounds of ice per day. The space-saving design also reduces energy consumption, which is especially helpful when every dollar impacts your bottom line.

Ice and Water Dispensers
Combination ice machines, also called ice and water dispensers, offer an efficient multi-use application for any bar, restaurant, or foodservice operation. Customers directly access ice dispensers to fill their cups or otherwise get ice. Dispensers are convenient and reduce the spread of germs.

Ice and water dispensers are prominent in healthcare settings and self-serve areas in restaurants. While these models are the most effective for customers to get their ice, dispensers also come with additional overhead costs and maintenance requirements. These types of dispensers typically produce ice in a chewable cubelet form.

While they are smaller in size, ice and water dispensers can produce up to 300 pounds of ice or more per day depending on the unit.

Ice Machine Bins
Any restaurant or bar using a modular ice machine will need an ice machine bin to store and access the ice throughout the workday. When choosing an ice machine bin, keep these factors in mind:

  • Choose a bin that will hold between 10-20% more ice than you would need for 24 hours. Allowing a capacity buffer will prevent problems when you get a surge of customers.
  • Consider how much ice your machine produces and how much ice the staff regularly takes. Your ice machine bin does not need to have the same capacity as your restaurant ice machine.
  • Even if you have space for it, don’t buy an ice machine bin that is too large. You will waste ice and encourage the growth of bacteria and mold in the excess water.

Ice Machine Condenser Types
All ice machines require a condenser, the component that rids the unit of heat so that your ice stays nice and fresh. There are three types of ice machine condensers: air-cooled, water-cooled, and remote.

Air-Cooled Condensers
Units with air-cooled condensers are the most cost-efficient. However, to cool your unit with air, your ice machine must have enough space to intake the air necessary to cool your ice. In addition, the temperature of the room cannot exceed room temperature. Ice machines with air-cooled condensers are the simplest to install and do not require extra wiring.

Water-Cooled Condensers
Water-cooled condensers are smart choices if the ambient air temperature in your kitchen is routinely hot and if the air contains a fair amount of contaminants like grease. Water-cooled ice machines can fit into tighter spots and only require an additional water line to operate. Ice machines with water-cooled condensers are more expensive, but the units themselves could potentially use less electricity and save you money.

Remote Condensers
Many restaurateurs and business owners rely on remote condensers to remove the heat and noise of an ice machine condensing unit. These units provide air-cooled condensing to the ice machine from a separate location, often a roof. Remote condensers are beneficial for hotels and larger restaurants and bars that contain several pieces of refrigeration equipment in the kitchen.

Water Filters for Ice Machines 
No matter what ice maker you choose, we recommend installing a water filter. Water filters carry many benefits for daily use:

  • Water filtration systems help prevent scale and lime buildup so that your ice machine maintains optimal water flow.
  • Water filters reduce the amount of chemicals like chlorine and chloramine in your ice so products taste better and are healthier for your customers.
  • Water filtration systems can slow the buildup of minerals to keep energy usage low and ice production high.

When shopping for a water filter, do the proper research to ensure the filter is compatible with your ice machine before purchase. While ordering, don’t forget to buy several cartridges to replace the filter as contaminants accumulate.

Choosing the Right Ice Machine for Your Business
Investing in the right ice machine is crucial to keeping your customers happy and running your operation smoothly. If you still have lingering questions, our professionals are standing by to provide their industry expertise and insight. Our chefs are familiar with every ice machine we stock and can provide personalized assistance for all businesses, from modest bistros to high-capacity hotels.

Contact Chefs’ Toys today to discover the commercial ice machine that will serve as the bedrock of your professional kitchen.