Spec Check: Ice Machine Applications

It's a cold, hard fact: specifying the right ice machine requires careful consideration of a number of critical factors ranging from service style to menu to peak demand periods to space available for the unit.

Because ice machine needs vary depending on both the application and operation, there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account by operation type.

Bars & Cocktail Lounges

For bars and cocktail lounges, the number and size of the drinks the facility will serve per day represent the main considerations when specifying an ice machine. Typically, these operations will utilize three pounds of ice per person or per seat each day.

Upscale bars are more likely to utilize regular cube sizes, which are larger and less likely to water down high-end liquor. Bars serving pricier drinks also can utilize gourmet ice, which resembles a tiny cup and works well in fine pours.

If a high ball tends to be the predominant drink, a dice or half dice size would work best. This cube size will cool down beverages faster, but also has a higher melt rate. For high-volume operations, the versatile half cube works in both mixed and soft drinks.

Full-Service Restaurants

Depending on the applications, full-service restaurants may utilize a variety of ice types. These operators will use full- or half-size cubes for beverages and flake ice for salad bars or any type of food display that needs packing ice for chilling. Another key consideration is the shape and size of the available space for the ice machine.

Quick-Service Restaurants

A number of quick-service restaurants are converting to dual ice for increased versatility. These operations will have a set up for half cubes and another for the popular nugget or tubal ice, which can be used for both soft drinks and frozen drinks.

In terms of volume, the general rule is 5 ounces of ice per each 7- to 10-ounce drink; 8 ounces of ice per each 12- to 16-ounce drink; and 12 ounces of ice per each 18- to 24-ounce drink.

Quick-service restaurants that offer a self-serve beverage location will utilize half diced cubes. In this case, aesthetics are not important. This ice cools beverages quickly and fills cups well.

Smoothie Shops

For those operations that primarily sell smoothies and other frozen drinks, sales volume represents a prime consideration when specifying an ice machine. Since ice is ground up, smaller cubes or nugget ice, which has a higher water content and is more granular, are best. The cubes need to be easily ground in a commercial blender without watering down the beverages' flavor.


In school and college cafeterias, which feed many people during shorter and more specified periods of time, ice machines large enough to handle the peak demand tend to be the best solution.

Again, the ice type should fit the needs and application of the school's specific foodservice operation. For example, a self-serve sandwich café would be best served by a cuber or half cube ice for dispensed beverages. A coffee shop serving iced coffee would typically need individual cubes.

Large-Scale Operations

In the case of large-scale foodservice operations, such as a hotel, hospital, nursing home or prison, operators should weigh a number of factors relative to their ice machine choices.

It's important to consider the peak ice demands with these applications. Hospital cafeterias may get a big surge in business for lunch and dinner hours, while hotel ice needs may vary, depending on whether banquet service is offered. It is always best to overestimate the anticipated volume so ice needs can be met during the busiest periods.

Hospitals typically require one pound of ice per person per day in cafeterias and 10 pounds per bed each day. Hotels will use 1.5 pounds per person in the restaurant, 3 pounds per person in the bar area and 1 pound per person for catering operations each day.

For front of house use, consider ice machines with remote compressors and condensers to eliminate undesirable noise and heat.

Healthcare operators use a variety of ice including full- and half-size cubes as well as flaked ice. Due to its versatility, smaller forms of ice tend to be popular within this segment. Nugget or cubelet ice tends to be the form of choice for retirement centers, since this type is easier for seniors to chew and digest.

Prisons generally utilize either half or full cube machines. When specifying ice machines for prisons, operators should consider units with fewer moving parts as a safety consideration.

Presentation Purposes

Flake ice is used more often for food presentation, display and to chill product. This method is making a resurgence, because producing this ice is more cost effective than utilizing quick-chill units. Beds of ice can be used in sink kitchens or back rooms as well as in front of house food displays, such as salad bars. It also is a good packing ice for self-serve packaged beverages.

Because this ice has a high water content, it is generally not used in beverages, since it would water down the drinks.

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