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Buy The Right Commercial Ice Machine The First Time

By Greg McGuire

Commercial ice machines form a critical link in the chain of operation in a restaurant or commercial kitchen. Ice machines can also be one of the largest expenditures in your budget, unless you decide on an ice machine rental. So choosing a unit that works for your particular needs and situation is vitally important.

This guide is intended to help you choose the ice machine that's right for you.

Size According to Needs

Choosing the right size commercial ice machine is the most important decision you'll have to make before placing an order. In addition to space constrictions in your restaurant or commercial kitchen, you need to buy the right capacity ice maker and ice bin to make sure you can keep up with peak demand without over producing ice.

To calculate ice usage in your commercial kitchen or restaurant, refer to the following chart:

Food Service

Restaurant: 1.8 lbs. per person
Cocktail: 3 lbs. per person
Salad Bar: 40 lbs. per cubic foot
Fast Food: 8 oz. per 16 oz. drink


Guest Use: 5 lbs. per room
Restaurant 1.8 lbs. per person
Cocktail 3 lbs. per person
Catering 1 lb. per person


Patients 10 lbs. per bed
Cafeteria 1 lb. per person

The average number of people you serve a day plus your kitchen's daily usage will give you an idea of how much ice you need in a 24 hour period. Making sure your business always has ice at its disposal requires a careful consideration of storage space and production capacity.

An ice bin that's too large will result in a lot of melted ice, costing you money. But too small of an ice bin means you'll run out at peak operating hours, costing you customers. The key is to strike a fine balance between ice production and storage.

The most important thing to remember is that it's cheaper to store ice than to make it. In other words, a larger ice bin that leaves you with some leftover ice after peak demand is more efficient than an ice machine that must produce 24/7 to keep up.

Also take into account the future growth of your business when deciding which commercial ice machine to buy. A good ice machine, if properly maintained, should last at least 10 years, and in that time hopefully your business will grow as well. It's usually a good idea to add 10% - 20% to your peak capacity needs to accommodate future growth. Some ice machines also come with stackable bins that allow you to add storage space as your demand for ice grows, adding more flexibility.

What Kind of Ice?

Different ice machines make different kinds of ice, and the type of ice you select is best suited for different applications in your commercial kitchen or restaurant.

Cubed Ice:

  • Comes in Whole Dice or Half Dice sizes
  • Is dense, meaning it melts slowly and cools drinks quickly
  • Recommended for: cocktails and beverages, ice dispensers, and retail sales

Flaked Ice:

  • Requires less energy to produce
  • Is easier to mold and shape for salad bar, meat, or seafood displays
  • Reduces choking hazards, making it ideal for healthcare and childcare applications
  • Recommended for: hospital and daycare cafeterias, salad bars, poultry, fish, or produce displays, and blended drinks

Nugget Ice:

  • Is softer than cubed ice but more dense than flaked ice
  • Is chewable and a customer favorite for beverages
  • Can also be used in product displays or salad bars

Air Cooled vs. Water Cooled

Commercial ice machines employ two methods for chilling water into ice: water-cooled and air-cooled. Both types of machines have their pros and cons.

Air-Cooled Ice Machines:

  • Are affordable and easier to install
  • Are usually less costly to operate
  • Raise the temperature in a room and have to work harder in hot environments
  • Are noisy
  • Required in areas with water conservation codes

Water-Cooled Ice Machines:

  • Are more expensive and harder to install
  • Can operate efficiently in hot environments
  • Are quiet
  • Depending on where you live, may violate local water conservation codes and be prohibitively expensive to operate due to water use

Remote Condenser Units

Larger air cooled ice machines that produce more than 500 pounds of ice per day can also be equipped with an optional remote condenser unit. A remote condenser is placed away from the ice bin or dispenser, usually on a roof.

Remote condensers:

  • Are air cooled
  • Are more efficient and quieter than indoor air cooled units
  • Require a more expensive professional installation


Most commercial ice machines are equipped with anti-microbial linings in areas where ice is produced and stored. These linings inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and algae. However, it is still very important to follow a regular cleaning schedule for your ice machine. Thoroughly clean the ice bin and production parts at least once a month with specialized ice machine cleaner.

Also clean the condenser fan (on air-cooled units) regularly and the air filter if the unit has one. On both water and air cooled units, purge the water lines regularly to prevent mineral or bacterial buildup.

Should You Use a Water Filter?

Installing a water filter with your commercial ice machine has become a standard practice in recent decades. Most manufacturers actively encourage adding water filtration to your commercial ice machine and will extend the warranty by as much as two years if you install the correct water filter with your new unit.

Filtered Water:

  • Improves ice machine performance and lifespan
  • Tastes better to your customer
  • Reduces mineral deposits inside your ice machine, decreasing the chances of a breakdown

Greg McGuire is a regular contributor to The Back Burner, a restaurant news, trends, and marketing blog. He also works for, a company specializing in restaurant equipment, supplies, and equipment parts.

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