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Ice Machine Buying Tips

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Ice machine buying tips.

This article will offer tips that will enable operators to make better decisions when purchasing a commercial ice machine.  These tips will cover how to calculate the right size ice machine to buy, how to determine which condenser type to buy, and the different types ice available.


A common mistake made by many is purchasing an ice machine that doesn’t meet the demands of their restaurant or food service facility.  This can easily be avoided by making the right calculation of how many pounds of ice your restaurant will potentially be using.

To make this calculation, first consider the maximum number of customers your restaurant will be serving during its peak hours of operation.  This can be determined by first counting the number of seats in the dining area or regular seating area.  On average, customers in this area consume 1.5-1.8 lbs of ice.  Next, if your restaurant will be serving customers at the bar, assume that each customer in that area will consume an average 3 pounds of ice.

After determining these amounts, consider other areas of the restaurant that will use bulk ice.  These areas include the prep stations, salad bars, or any other ice containers that are used to chill product.  Most containers like salad bars will hold about 30 lbs per square foot.  So estimate the number of pounds that each container will potentially need and determine how many times a day each of these areas will need to be replenished.

Take the total amount of ice needed for all these areas of your establishment and then add another 20% to that total.  Its always best to buy a machine that will produce a little more than what you estimate needing.

**This is especially true if you live in warmer parts of the country because ice production rates vary greatly between mild and hotter temperatures.  For example, the difference between an ice machine’s production capacities in a 70 degree environment and a 90 degree environment can be as much as 35%.

Luckily some manufacturers, like Manitowoc have made it easy for potential customers to calculate the amount of pounds of ice needed with their ice machine calculator.


Condensers function to help cool and condense refrigerants from a gas to liquid state in refrigeration systems.  They are an integral part of the refrigeration cycle and can seriously affect the efficiency of any unit.  A condenser that is not functioning efficiently will greatly reduce ice production while also causing the compressor to work much harder than it should.

There are three different types of condensers that an ice machine can be paired with.  These include self-contained (or air-cooled) condensers, water cooled condensers, and remote condensers.  No individual condenser type is better than another but there are situations where a particular condenser will be more appropriate.

Air-cooled units are made with the condensing unit located together within the head of the machine and are typically used in situations that don’t require large amounts of ice.  Air-cooled units (sometimes referred to as self-contained units) are less expensive and will work just fine if you aren’t operating in a kitchen or environment that is hot.

If you plan to get an ice machine with a self contained condenser make sure that the machine is placed in an area that will allow for sufficient air flow.  In an already hot (and usually greasy) environment, ice machines operating with this type of condenser will not be able to remove enough heat from the refrigerant therefore slowing production.  These types of units will also add heat to an already hot environment.

ice machine tips

Large self contained units working well in open environment.

If you do buy a self-contained unit, make sure to place them further away from cooking equipment or other places of high heat.  These machines need to breathe so don’t suffocate them in a tight area or you won’t be seeing the amount of ice its rated to produce.

Ice machines with a remote unit will operate with the condensing unit located outside of the building.  This enables the unit to expel heat to the outside air instead of inside the building.  Bigger units that are rated to produce more than 1000 lbs a day will typically operate better using a remote condenser unless the machine can be kept in an open space.  It’s well worth the extra investment to buy a remote condenser for someone who is running a convenience store, a nightclub or a busy restaurant.

Water-cooled condensers use water instead of air to cool down the refrigerant running through the condenser coils.  This type of condenser uses less electricity to cool than a self-contained air-cooled condenser.  However, they do use a large amount of water to accomplish this and for most areas of the country the water bill would be exceedingly high to justify using a water-cooled condenser.  Water-cooled units are only cost effective in areas of the country where the energy rates are high and water consumptions rates are low.  For this reason, there are far fewer water-cooled ice machines in use.


There’s plenty of options available in terms of ice shapes and forms that machines are able to produce.  But for most restaurants there are 3 different types of ice to consider.

Full sized cubed ice is very common and can be used in a variety of applications.  Full sized cubes are great for filling drink glasses, especially cocktail glasses.  Full sized cubed ice melts much slower because they have almost a 100% ratio of water to air.  This makes for a better tasting and less watered down cocktail served to your customer.   Also, since cubed ice melts slower, your wait staff will be making fewer refills of ice which will slow the depletion of your ice supply.   Cubed ice is also great for keeping bottled beverages chilled in a bar tub or for filling salad bars.

Half sized cubes are another very popular choice for restaurants.  This style of ice also melts at a slower rate and because of its shape it will take up more room in a glass.  This means there will be less ice needed to fill up glasses.  Hoshizaki has its on version of a half sized cuber that makes crescent shaped ice cubes.  These cubes are known to reduce spillage when pouring because of their shape.

Lastly, consider purchasing a nugget or pellet ice machine if you want your customers to have soft chewable ice.  Some manufacturers use different terms referring to this style such as nugget, cubelet ice, tubular ice, and pellet ice.  Offering this type of ice at your establishment can create an additional attraction as it not something offered everywhere but enjoyed by most.  This ice is also great to use for filling a salad bar.

If you are interested in learning about what other ice shapes are available, have a look at the selection of machines Manitowoc offers.


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