How to Pick the Right Ice Machine for Your Business

Are you looking to purchase an ice machine for your restaurant, bar, hotel, smoothie bar, or coffee shop? With so many types, styles, and sizes of ice makers on the market—it’s hard to know if you are choosing the right one.

We’ve outlined the steps you need to take, and the questions you need to cover, before you buy an ice machine.

Ice Machine Styles and Configurations


Assess the size of the space that you have available to install your ice machine. Do you have a large kitchen space? Or are you looking for a small machine that can fit under the counter? Your ice machine retailer should be able to help you find an ice machine that fits into your space and meets your demands.

Modular Ice Machines

Modular units make ice, but do not offer storage. They are designed to sit on top of an ice storage bin or dispenser. These types of units can produce around 250lbs. to over 1000lbs. of ice per day.

Ideal for businesses that require large quantities of ice such as large or high volume restaurants, night clubs, bars, hotels, and hospitals.

Undercounter Ice MachinesU140_240

Sometimes referred to as self-contained ice machines, undercounter units are the choice for most bars, coffee shops, and small restaurants that need to save on space; undercounter models fit under most 40” countertops. This style will produce and store up to 350lbs. of ice per day.

Ice Dispensers

Ice dispensers are available in both countertop versions and in large stand-alone versions (the kind found in hotels for filling ice buckets). Some models offer a water dispenser too. This style is often found in cafeterias, fast food restaurants, and healthcare facilities.

Ice Types

This is one of the first, and possibly the easiest, choices you will have to make. You will need to identify what style of ice cube will best suit your application. There are 3 main types of ice.

Cubed Ice

Cubed ice is the most common type. It can be broken down into full cube, half cube, and regular cube.

Full Cubes (or dice) are square in shape, usually measuring 7/8” or more on all sides. This type of cube has a large surface area which will slow the melting process and keep your drink cooler, longer.

Half Cubes (or half dice) are slimmer than full cubes. You can place more half cubes in a glass than full size cube. This makes it ideal for fast food restaurants that often give customers higher amounts of ice to increase beverage profits. Half cubes are also suggested for blended beverages or smoothies because half cubes blend more easily.

Regular Cubes are similar to the shape of ice made in at-home ice cube trays, measuring approximately 11/8” x 11/8” x 7/8”.

Nugget Ice

Nugget ice is also referred to as pellet, pearl, or chewable ice. It is soft, easy to chew and melts quickly. It is most often used by fast food restaurants or hospitals and health care facilities.

Flake Ice

Flake ice consists of shaved or flaked pieces of ice. Flake ice is soft and easy to form into shapes or mounds. It is most commonly used for blended beverages, food displays (seafood displays, salad bars, produce displays), and for use in health care clinics.

Ice Usage Guide

Ice machines are available in a variety of sizes and can produce anywhere from 50 lbs. of ice per day to more than 2000 lbs. in a 24 hour period.

Important tips:

  • Check your books to determine your average number of customers your facility serves every day; it will provide the most accurate estimate for the machine size you will need.
  • Look for an ice machine that can keep up when your demand is at its highest.
  • Think about your ice usage during peak times of the day or peak seasons (if you’re in the food and beverage industry you’ll likely go through a lot more ice over the summer months than you will over the winter.)

Follow this chart as a guide to help you determine how many pounds of ice you will need per day; it will help you find an ice maker to meet your demand.


Industry Approximate Daily Ice Usage Ice Type
Bar 3 lbs. per customer Full cube
Restaurant 1.5 lbs. per customer Full cube
Cafeteria 1 lb. per customer Half cube
Coffee shop or Smoothie bar 5 oz. per 7-10 oz. drink8 oz. per 12-16 oz. drink12 oz. per 18-24 oz. drink Half cube (fast food, beverage blending)Full cube (specialty)
Cafeteria 1 lb. per customer Half cube
Catering 1 lb. per person Half cube
Hotel 5 lbs. per guest or more Full cube
Hospital 10 lbs. per patient Nugget
Food display counter (ex. Salad bars, seafood displays) 35 lbs. per cubic foot Flake

Condenser Types

Once you have selected your ice cube type and style configuration, then it’s time to choose a condenser type. Your location, the amount of space available, and your ice production needs will affect your condenser options.

Air-Cooled Ice Machines

Air-cooled condensers are a cost effective option because they do not require additional water expenses. The units require about 6” of space around the air intake and discharge.

Water-Cooled Ice Machines

Water-cooled units are not affected by surrounding air temperatures. They are often used in spaces that exceed 80°F or have poor circulation. Water-cooled is popular option when ice machines are placed in hot kitchens. Consider a water-cooled ice machine if noise is an issue—these units operate more quietly than air-cooled.

Remote-Cooled Ice Machines

Remote-cooled machines are the most quiet of all 3 condenser types. Remote-cooled units are air-cooled but the condensing unit is located either outdoors, on a roof, or in another room. Remote-cooled condensers are perfect for small restaurants or open kitchens because the noisy condenser is out of the customers’ hearing range.

Important points to consider:

Think about the future when you’re buying an ice maker. Most machines offer a 3-5 year warranty with purchase. Does the ice machine give you room to grow over the next 5 years? If in doubt you should size up and be safe rather then get stuck with a machine that can’t meet your customer demands.

Looking to purchase a new or used ice machine? Contact The Iceman. Our specialists will walk you through the process. Plus we offer free site inspections to help you find the right make, model, size, and style.