commercial ice machine

How to Pick Out the Best Small Commercial Ice Maker for Your Restaurant

Virtually every type of eating establishment needs an ice maker. But not every restaurant will have the same needs.

An ice-cold drink on a hot day, a champagne bottle in a bucket next to your table, a tower of seafood nestled in ice… almost every sort of eating establishment needs an ice maker.

Do you need to buy a small commercial ice maker for your business? Maybe you have a bar, hotel, restaurant or snow cone stand? There are many choices and sizes of ice makers on the market. It's difficult to decide which one is the right one.

Not every place has the same needs. Check out our top rated ice makers, or read on to learn more about choosing the right kind of ice and the best ice maker to meet your needs.

Ice Maker For RestaurantsWhat Kind of Ice?

First off, what do you need the ice for? Different applications call for different types of ice.

Gourmet Ice

Spheres, top hats, or over-sized cubes for your premium Scotch? You need a specialty ice maker with double filtration for this slow-melting, crystal-clear ice.

Flaked or Crushed

Best for ice displays or fast chilling drinks, this moldable ice melts fast and chills quickly. It is also perfect for fast snow cones, granitas, and blended drinks. This is also the choice of most healthcare applications.

Cubes and Half-Cubes

Your typical all-purpose ice for beverages, displays and more. Larger cubes melt more slowly and dilute beverages less.

Full Cubes are squares, usually measuring a little less than an inch on each side. This type of cube has a small surface area to volume ratio which slows the melting process and keeps your drink cool for a longer time.

Half Cubes or crescents are thinner rectangles or oblongs. They fill a glass more effectively than full cubes. Restaurants like them because they displace more beverage.

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Nugget Ice

These crunchy, irregular ice chunks are cylindrical with a high surface area to volume ratio. They are best for beverages, blending and ice dispensers.

Once you know what kind of ice you need, look at how much you need in any 24 hour period.

Commercial Ice MachinesIce Machine Capacity

Commercial ice machines are rated for volumes ranging from 45 lbs. to more than 2200 lbs. of ice per day.

For an accurate needs estimate:

  • Check your records for your average daily customer count
  • Match your ice machine to your peak demand
  • Anticipate menu changes such as blended frozen beverages
  • Consider ice use to chill or prepare food or for other reasons than serving drinks
  • Seasonal factors
  • Ice storage (warmer climates means more loss)

Where Do You Put It?

What kind of space do you have available to install your ice machine? Don't forget the space for the condenser.

Do you have room for a big footprint? Does your machine need to be outside? Or are you looking for a small commercial ice machine for under the counter?

Modular Ice Machines

Modular units make ice only. They sit over an ice storage bin or dispenser. These flexible units can produce 250 lbs. to more than 1000 lbs. of ice per day.

Ice Makers - Commercial

Self-Contained Commercial Ice Machines

Undercounter units are made to fit under a standard 40″ counter. Regular styles come in 22″, 30″ and 44″ standard widths. Self-contained units suit the needs of most bars, coffee shops, and small restaurants short on space. These types of machines can make and store up to 350 lbs of ice a day.

Commercial Ice Dispensers

Ice dispensers are the most sanitary way to provide self-service ice. They are available in both counter versions (such as in a convenience store) and in larger standing models (such as for hotel ice buckets.) Unfortunately, they are much slower than using a scoop to move large volumes of ice.

Once you narrow down your selection, move on to the type of condenser machinery.

Condenser Types

Consider the space available, the noise level, the type of installation and ambient temperature and energy efficiency.

Air-Cooled Ice Machines

Ice Machine For RestaurantAir-cooled condensers are the easiest to maintain. They are often the least expensive option. The condenser unit requires at least 6″ of circulating air space. The ambient air temperature must be less than 80F for efficiency. Air-cooled ice machines can be the most energy-efficient of all condensers if the there are no extremes in temperature.

A disadvantage to air-cooled machines is that the air pulled through the machine intake to cool the condenser also carries kitchen contaminants such as grease and dirt. Careful and frequent cleaning of the condenser coils is especially important. Air-cooled ice machines work best in clean, temperature-controlled environments.

Remote-Cooled Ice Machines

Remote-cooled machines install their air-cooled condensers at a distance from the ice maker. They are the least noisy of condenser types. The condensing unit is outside or in a separate room. Remote-cooled condensers are used for customer areas or open kitchens to prevent condenser noise in guests' hearing.

Water-Cooled Ice Machines

Water-cooled units are unaffected by ambient air temperatures. They are the next most energy-efficient alternative to air-cooled condensers in kitchens and spaces that exceed 80F. They require additional plumbing and use cool running water to carry away heat.

Water cooled machines can be single pass or closed loop systems. Single pass systems use 5 times more water than an air-cooled machine to produce the same quantity of ice. Closed loop systems use your building's recirculating water system and cooling tower.

Many areas have restricted or banned the use of non-recirculating (single-pass) water-cooled machines.

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The Right Small Commercial Ice Maker

Most new ice makers are guaranteed for up to five years. Will you need to upgrade before five years? Leave some room between your needs now and in the future. A small commercial ice maker that leaves you without ice on a busy Saturday night is no bargain.

Narrowed down your choices to the right type of machine? Look through our list of brands to find the one for you. Our reviews guide you through the comparisons to find the right manufacturer, model, size, and style.


Author: Hudson Piccini

Hudson Cynar, a Harvard University alumna and the owner of three prosperous enterprises, is a distinguished business consultant, author, and writer. Her expertise spans multiple business sectors, with a particular emphasis on storage containers, commercial copiers, payroll services, and medical billing software. Dedicatedly investing thousands of hours into product and service research, Hudson crafts insightful reviews to guide entrepreneurs in making informed decisions for their businesses.