Starting a Restaurant: Choosing an Ice Machine

From chilling beverages to keeping salad bar items fresh, ice is essential for any restaurant. Investing in a quality ice machine will not only keep customers happy with ice-cold drinks, but can also save you money by reducing food spoilage caused by storing prepared dishes and ingredients at improper temperatures. When shopping for a commercial ice machine, you should consider the type and quantity of ice, ice storage, compressor/condenser system, and ice machine filtration that best suits your needs.

Ice Types

A popular choice for beverages, cube ice comes in several varieties, including half dice, dice, and regular cube, all with a characteristic rhomboid shape. Eighty-percent of restaurants choose this variety of ice because it melts slower and fills up glasses better than any other type of ice, helping restaurateurs save more by using less.

Nugget ice is another great option for beverages. With a soft, easy-to chew texture, nugget ice is perfect for use in ice dispensers near fountain drink machines.

Flake ice is softer, allowing you to easily pack the ice around objects to hold them in place. Ideal for chilling salad bars and packing fresh chicken or seafood displays, flake ice is best for presentation purposes.


Ice machine production varies by model and brand. Check manufacturer guidelines to determine how much ice the unit will generate in a day. The volume of ice will also fluctuate depending on the water temperature and temperatures behind the counter, particularly if the ice machine is placed near the kitchen.

Ice Storage

It is two to three times more expensive to produce a pound of ice than it is to store it, so choosing the right ice storage option can lower expenses and raise your bottom line. If you find that you are low or running out of ice, save money by purchasing a larger ice bin instead of a larger ice machine. Your machine will continue to make ice until the bin is

Extra ice bins are great to have on hand for your busiest days and for easy access at waitress stations and bars. However, larger ice machine bins usually require additional space, so check the width of the area in which you keep your ice machine to make sure the unit fits properly.

Compressor / Condenser Systems

Industrial ice machines use either air or water to cool the refrigeration compressor / condenser systems. Each method of cooling has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. The least expensive and easiest to install, air cooled ice machines have a tendency to make a lot of noise and often heat up rooms quickly with warm exhaust air. For this reason, air cooled units may not be a good fit for an already sweltering kitchen.

Efficient and quiet, water cooled ice machines are also relatively easy to install. However, these types of machines can drive up operating costs if water prices in your area are high. Also, water cooled ice machines may be prohibited in places where there is little rainfall, so it is always best to check with local authorities before purchasing a water cooled unit.

Professionally installed remote condensers are available for commercial ice machines that produce more than 500 pounds per day. Remote condensers can be positioned away from the kitchen, where air contaminates like grease can often harm the unit. Most commonly, they are placed on the roof, eliminating noise, heat, and indoor air contamination.

Ice Machine Filtration

Having a water filter and changing it according to manufacturer’s specifications is as important as keeping oil in your car and getting regular oil changes. In fact, an estimated 60% of all ice machine maintenance calls are water-related.  Some manufacturers will even extend the warranty on the evaporator when purchasing a water filter on your unit.

Water filters improve taste by eliminating odors, sediment, scale buildup, and parasites. Additionally, they capture harmful chemicals that can cause ice machines to malfunction.

Ice machines are more than just a necessity for your restaurant, improving the safety of the food you serve and lowering operational costs. Spending the time to thoroughly investigate your requirements and ice machine features will ensure that you select a unit that will effectively serve your restaurant’s needs for years to come.