On the Rocks - Commercial Ice Maker Buying Guide

Commercial Ice Maker Buying Guide

When the heat ramps up as a restaurant hits its peak busy period, both front of house and back of house staff need to stay cool.

And there is nothing cooler (literally) in a restaurant than ice! A critical part of delivering great service, a restaurant not only needs a working ice machine, but must have an ice maker that is best suited to demands.

Not all commercial ice machines are the same, however, so we’re here to break down the different types of units — and the different types of ice — so you can be as informed as possible when buying an ice cube machine for your business.

Why You Need a Commercial Ice Maker

Unless you’re planning on only serving 10 guests per day, just using residential-style ice cube trays in the freezer won’t fly. An ice making machine is a must to meet daily restaurant ice demands.

They offer restaurants a chance to have styles of ice beyond a standard cube, and provide a consistency in size and structure of each individual piece.

Water filtration systems also mean you’re looking at having cleaner ice—which results in a better product going into every cold beverage you serve.

Different places for ice

Styles of Ice Making Machines

Modular/Ice Machine Head

Generally yields the biggest daily amount of ice (250-1,000 lbs per day) but is strictly just an ice maker—it needs to be used (and is often placed) on top of a separate ice storage bin or dispenser.

Self-contained Ice Machines

Get yourself a machine that can do both! These units top out around 350 lbs of ice per day and, depending on the size, you can place these units under a bar/kitchen counter or store them in an entirely different space.

Combination Ice Maker/Dispenser

Generally best suited for quick-serve restaurants, combination ice maker and dispenser create and dispense the ice straight from the same unit. They can produce up to 400 lbs of ice per day and are designed for frequent usage.

Combination Ice Maker

Choosing Where to Place Your Ice Maker

Having a top-flight ice making unit is only part of the equation—where you decide to have your ice source located (and how many units you have) is equally important.

Front of house real estate is crucial, so a larger-sized self-contained unit or a modular unit + bin, will likely go somewhere in the kitchen, or back in a storage area not visible to your guests.

Or, perhaps, you can have a small unit behind your bar (for quick bar access or specialized ice), as well as a larger machine in the back.

For maximum efficiency, you want the machine easily accessible for your staff. If you have a multi-floor establishment, try to keep the ice machine on the same level as your service. Having staff carry ice up/down flights stairs is terribly inefficient, especially during busy stretches.

There are other considerations when choosing where to place your ice maker. All ice makers need access to a drain. and access to a water line with a shut-off valve.  Water-cooled units need two water lines. Finally,  access to power.  Most models have standard 110V but refer to manufacturers specifications to confirm requirements.

What Size Ice Machine(s) Do I Need?

“Bigger is better” does not necessarily apply to ice machines. Having a unit that holds and produces more ice than you use results in stagnant ice building up in the bottom of your bin, which over time can attract bacteria and other taste-reducing factors.

On the flip side, get a machine too small and you’re constantly running out of ice at the busiest times—no bueno. 

How often you need ice is also a factor to consider. Ice maker production represent the total amount of ice (by weight) they produce in 24 hours.  That means if you empty all the ice right before dinner service another full batch won't be ready for another 24 hours.

Also keep in mind that production and the capacity are two different things.  The production is how much ice is produced in 24 hours and the capacity is the total amount of ice that can be stored in the ice storage bin.

Two smaller units might be a better option for some bars and commercial kitchens as usage can be staggered over service times so you never completely run out.

Do some quick math to figure out how much ice you anticipate using on a daily basis, based on these general consumption averages:

Standard restaurant: 1.5 lbs of ice per guest.
Cocktail bar and self-service restaurants: 3 lbs/guest.
Water glasses (serving tap water): 6 oz per 12 oz glass.
Quick-serve restaurants: 5 oz per 7-10 oz cup 8 oz per 12-16 oz cup 12 oz per 18-24 oz cup
Food displays (such as fresh seafood, deli counters or chilled beverage displays): 30 lbs per cubic foot of display space.

Ice storage bin capacities also need to be factored in. 

Types of Ice

Not all ice is created equal. There are a number of different ice shapes and styles that venues use, all with different (yet practical) applications.

Full cube

Primarily for beverages and bags of ice, full cube ice has the largest size and thickness, which means the ice melts slower. This results in drinks cooling down quickly AND causing less dilution of beverages.

Half cube

Similar to a full cube, but smaller! Smaller surface area of each cube allows for the ice to be packed tighter. This has a better drink displacement but still cools it down quickly—and minimizes the amount of dilution as there is less actual ice in the glass.


Flat on one side and half-moon shape on the other, crescent cubes are more consistent in shape as it is less likely to chip in a machine. They are less likely to be stuck together, making them efficient to pour into a glass, and they fit together even better than half cubes—and better drink displacement means less liquid needed to actually fill each glass.


Also known as “pearl ice,” this is slow to melt but also softer and easier to chew than cubes. Nugget ice is preferred in smoothies and blended drinks but also works great for QSRs and family-oriented restaurants.


Also known as “shaved ice,” this is ice made in very small, non-uniform shards. In small amounts it will melt quickly but when packed together (like snow) it is the best for food and beverage displays. Flaked ice also works great for blended drinks and smoothies, or cocktails such as juleps.

Choosing a Machine Condensing Unit

Ice making machines work non-stop throughout the day, requiring a condenser to keep it from overheating—the opposite of what you want when making ice.

There are three predominant types of ice machine condensing units:


The most common type for commercial ice makers, they use fans to push air through the machine, avoiding extra water usage. Air-cooled condensers are also the most energy efficient, although you do require at least 6” of clearance around the air intake and discharge areas.


If you don’t have the space for an air-cooled unit, water-cooled ice machines units use cold water instead of a fan to keep the machine cool. This drastically increases your water consumption but is preferred if your ice machine is installed in a generally warm space or an area filled with dirtier air.


The condenser is in a different location (usually outside) than the ice machine, removing the excess heat and noise from inside the restaurant. This is generally more expensive to install, however, and will require more care and maintenance as the refrigerant lines run a longer distance.

Ice Maker Accessories

Having an operational ice machine is great, but how do you clean it and how do you get the ice from the machine to where it needs to be?

Ice Scoops

Stainless steel or aluminum ice scoops are sturdier but can get cold rather quickly, so you can also opt for a strong plastic scoop as well. Be sure to have a holster/holder for the scoop, so as to not have it just lying around anywhere—it’s unsanitary AND it can get lost.

Ice Buckets/Totes

Aim for buckets that have a study bail but try to get something that is lightweight—buckets full of ice can get very heavy!

Accessories for serving ice

Water Filtration

The quality of water determines the quality of the ice.  Using a water filtration system can remove minerals and other contaminants producing ice with better clarity and taste.  Filters also minimize build up these contaminants in the tubing and elements of the machine maximizing efficiency.

Cleaning Supplies

Yeast, bacteria and algae can build up in damp crevices of machines, which can contaminate your ice. Ensure you have a regular schedule and the correct cleaning supplies on hand, including scrub brushes, buckets and cloths

Having the best ice — and the right ice machine setup — will not only lead to a better product being served to your guests, but it will also lead to increased efficiency, better margins and more money on your business’ bottom line!

Check out our selection of ice making machines and accessories and keep your restaurant cool when it comes to providing top-quality ice.

Written by Jared Hochman

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Pile of ice