Choosing A Commercial Ice Machine & Ice Trends

Many operators still rely on a single large commercial ice maker to produce one type of ice for their entire foodservice operation. A growing trend is to select multiple commercial ice machines, placing them strategically throughout the foodservice establishment. This not only minimizes the need to transport ice from a central location, it allows operators to select different types of ice for different applications. This improves operational performance and creates a better customer experience.
Photos courtesy of Manitowoc

Commercial Ice, Cube Ice
Full Cube
Half Cube Ice
Gourmet Ice
Gourmet Ice
Commercial Ice, Flake Ice
Flake Ice
Chewable Ice

Types Of Commercial Ice

First, decide what types of ice you need. Not all ice is the same, and some types of ice are better suited for a particular purpose. Commercial ice machine manufacturers might use different names, and slightly different shapes or dimensions, but most fall into one of the following categories.

  • Full Cube (a.k.a., Dice, Medium Cube)(Roughly 7/8” x 7/8” x 7/8”) – These are square or rhomboid shaped ice cubes, often called “Dice” due to their resemblance in size and shape to the dice used in gaming. This ice works well for soft drinks, liquor service, bulk dispensing, bagging, and bulk cooling. Larger cubes tend to melt more slowly so drinks aren’t diluted as rapidly.
  • Half Cube (a.k.a., Half Dice, Small Cube)(Roughly 7/8” x 7/8” x 3/8”) – The same width, but roughly half as thick, this is the most versatile and common type of ice found in the foodservice industry. It works well for soft drinks, cocktails, and self-service dispensing. It’s also a great choice when making blended frozen drinks. It displaces more liquid than Full Cube resulting in a more favorable (and profitable) ice to beverage ratio.
  • Gourmet Ice (a.k.a. Regular Cube, Large Cube)(Roughly 1-1/8” x 1/1/8” x 7/8”) – A growing trend in the world of ice, Gourmet Ice comes in various shapes including cuboid, octagonal, cylindrical, and top-hat shaped. These oversized cubes are used almost exclusively for upscale spirits to provide visual appeal and to slow the dilution of fine scotches, bourbons and whiskies.
  • Flake Ice – Soft and moldable, Flake Ice cools product rapidly and melts quickly. It’s often used in seafood displays, salad bars, cold beverage displays, and buffets. Used in a limited number of cocktail recipes, such as Mojitos and Mint Juleps, it can also be used for snow cone and Italian ice treats. It is popular in healthcare and hospitals where it minimizes the choking risk for elderly or ailing patients, and works well in medical compresses.
  • Chewable Ice (a.k.a., Nugget Ice, Pearl Ice, Cubelets, Chewblets, Sonic Ice)(Roughly 1/2” x 3/8”) A wildly popular ice trend in recent years, it is a consumer favorite, especially for those who like to chew ice. Chewable Ice is basically flake ice that has been compressed into small cylindrical shapes that are relatively soft, moldable, and easy on the teeth. Dryer than flake ice, it performs better in dispensers and absorbs the flavor of beverages. It’s also popular in healthcare and child care where it presents less of a choking risk than cube ice.
  • Other Ice Types – Inside a typical ice machine, ice is made when water comes into contact with cold plates or drums. After the water is frozen, it must be released so it can fall into a bin or dispenser. Various manufacturers employ different designs and technologies to accomplish this feat, and some result in unique ice shapes such as Tulip Ice, Crescent Ice, Bullet Ice, Contoured Ice, and more. Manufacturers may tout the performance benefits of their uniquely shaped cubes, but most are just variations of the more common types of ice.

Types Of Commercial Ice Machines

So you’ve chosen your ice, now choose a machine. You have options. Most manufacturers offer a wide variety of sizes capable of producing any of the poplar types of ice listed above. This enables you to choose individual machines for your kitchen, bar, service station, self-serve, or retail areas.

  • Modular – Often called Ice Makers, or Ice Heads, these machines do not include a bin. Instead, various adapters are used to mount them on top of a bin, dispenser, or beverage machine. Modular ice machine can produce as little as 300 lbs. of ice per day, or up to 2500 lbs. and more. Using a modular ice maker atop a dispenser or beverage machine eliminates the need to manually refill the ice hopper. Modular ice makers can be re-mounted if a new or larger bin is required at some point in the future.
  • Self-Contained – These ice machines combine an ice maker and ice bin in a single unit. Often sized for undercounter use, they are great for bars, cafes, coffee shops, and small restaurants. They typically produce between 100 and 500 lbs. of ice per day.
  • Dispensers – These machines dispense ice, typically for self-service. They are commonly used in hotel vending areas, lounge rooms, country clubs, healthcare facilities, and for room service. Individual models may be designed to dispense ice into individual beverage cups, bags, or buckets. Both countertop and floor models are available. They typically produce between 100 and 800 lbs. of ice per day.
  • Countertop – Countertop ice machines are typically just smaller sized ice dispensers for beverage service. They may dispense water as well. They are popular in healthcare facilities, lounge rooms, and small cafeterias. They typically produce 50 to 300 lbs. of ice per day.

Sizing A Commercial Ice Maker

There are two components to ice machine sizing: physical dimensions and output.

  • Dimensions – Ice machines come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes to fit nearly any installation point. Know the dimensions you have to work with, and remember to leave extra space for the cooling unit to breathe and for utility connections. A Kitchen Spot Expert can help you determine size and clearances.
  • Output – Ice machines are specified by output, typically measured in pounds of ice produced per day. A commonly used rule of thumb for restaurants is 1.5 pounds of ice per meal served. Many factors can affect this estimate, including menu, method of food production, service style, beverage service, and ambient temperatures. A Kitchen Spot Expert can help you calculate your unique ice needs.

Purchasing commercial ice making equipment involves any number of considerations from the type of ice and number of machines you need, to the size and output of each unit. Careful choices now will ensure a more efficient operation and a better customer experience. Contact a Kitchen Spot Expert for help selecting the best ice solution for your needs.