Drink Dispensers Buyers' Guide
Either for health reasons or to enjoy a break from the ordinary, more customers are looking for drink choices beyond the traditional soft drinks and teas we're all familiar with. Expand your beverage program to include offerings like fresh fruit juice, iced coffee, sparkling water, and a variety of hot drinks to bring in new customers and give repeat patrons something new to try. This guide will help you choose the right drink dispensers for the job.
Sometimes called granitas, Frusheez, or slush, slushies are sweet, cold treats made from a simple, partially-frozen mixture of flavored syrup and water. Slushie machines are simple to operate, and slushie mix is affordable and available in a ton of flavors, from classics like blue raspberry and cherry to more sophisticated flavors like mango and margarita.
Unlike shaved ice, snow cones, and other ice-based treats, slushies don't require any ice-cutting or chopping equipment. Simply add your mixture to the slushie machine's hopper and it will freeze to the right texture in less than an hour. Machines can be set up for counter service or to allow customers to serve themselves.
While machine details vary between manufacturers, all slushie machines take advantage of a rotating auger that circulates the product through a freezing chamber, bringing the entire batch to a consistent texture and temperature. Two-bowl versions of this equipment are the most common, although they are available with one and three bowls to accommodate as many slushie flavors.
Lower-volume slushie machines have capacities of 1 to 3 gallons per bowl, and each flavor is frozen in and dispensed from a single compartment. Higher-volume machines include two chambers for each flavor. One receives unfrozen mix and chills it to just above freezing. Product from that chamber is automatically brought into the freezing chamber as the mix is dispensed. This two-compartment design is better able to keep up with high demand and reduces the labor costs associated with running the machine.
Many slushie machines can be connected to autofill systems that automatically top off each hopper from a bag-in-box syrup supply. This type of machine helps further cut down on the labor required to operate the machine and helps guarantee there will always be product available when a customer wants to purchase a drink.
Most slushie machines can be used as margarita machines, but because drinks containing alcohol freeze at lower temperatures than drinks that do not, you must account for the slower freezing cycle and choose a machine that will be able to keep up with your demand for frozen adult beverages. For this reason, if you plan on dispensing more than a handful of margaritas in an hour, it's wise to choose a heavy-duty slushie machine for dispensing frozen alcoholic beverages.
Hot Chocolate Machines
Hot chocolate machines are easy to use and maintain, mixing each drink on demand from a powdered concentrate, which generally has a long shelf life and does not require refrigeration. Since the mix remains usable for so long, this type of machine is a good choice in establishments that see big fluctuations in the demand for drinks. These high-volume machines also dispense drinks quickly, so they can handle the demand for dozens of drinks an hour.
Hot drink machines can also be set up to give patrons choices beyond hot chocolate. You can set up a single machine to dispense instant coffee, cappuccino, lattes, hot cider, and more. Some of these hot drink machines can dispense as many as six flavors, and some allow guests the additional choice to customize their beverages with sugar, sweetener, and creamer, so they can dispense exactly the drinks they want.
Most hot drink machines are designed to be set up at self-service counters. For that reason, they're popular in convenience stores and vending areas. They're equally appropriate for use in restaurant and hotel kitchens. Portion-controlled units dispense a set volume at the press of a button while others allow the user to determine how much to dispense.
Iced Coffee Machines
Iced coffee has become many folks' preferred way to get their daily caffeine. An iced coffee machine gives operators a convenient way to offer the drink without the high labor demands of preparing it from freshly-brewed coffee. Like the hot drink dispensers covered above, iced coffee machines make drinks from a packaged concentrate. Unlike hot drink machines, however, iced coffee machines rely on a liquid concentrate that the machine keeps refrigerated. Iced coffee machines come in two- and four-flavor versions so you can offer a variety of iced coffee flavors.
Cold Drink and Juice Dispensers
When it comes to serving cold drinks like juice, fruit drinks, and tea, you have many options to choose from. The simplest solution - the premix "bubbler" dispenser - is the best for serving drinks without pulp and those that don't tend to foam when agitated. Bubblers can serve drinks that are mixed from powder, as well as low-sediment juices like apple juice.
Bubblers get their name from a spray tube that pumps product from the bottom of the dispenser's bowl up to the top, spraying it in a fountain pattern. This setup circulates the product to keep it mixed and chilled evenly.
For drinks that tend to froth - like high-pulp orange juice, teas, and any product that contains milk - you'll want to choose a bubbler that's built with an impeller, rather than a spray tube. An impeller gently stirs the product to keep it circulated without causing it to froth.
If you're looking for a lower-maintenance alternative to bubblers that serves premium juice drinks from concentrate, you'll want to go with a gourmet cold beverage dispenser. These systems are practically identical to the iced coffee systems described above, mixing drinks on demand from a liquid concentrate that's dispensed from bag-in-box containers. The only difference is cosmetic, as juice dispensers are shipped with merchandising graphics that advertise juice, rather than coffee drinks.
Gourmet juice machines are available in two- and four-flavor versions. They're built to serve juice in relatively high volumes, dispensing 1 to 11⁄2 ounces of juice per second. They're simple to operate and can be set up for self-service and are particularly popular at continental breakfast stations and in convenience stores.
Foodservice operators everywhere are finding the value in having a dedicated water dispenser as guests seek healthier alternatives to sugary drinks. You can choose between sparkling and still water dispensers, or choose a model that serves both.
Still water dispensers are great to have at self-serve drink stations in quick-serve and casual restaurants, as well as at nurses' stations in hospitals and doctor's offices. You'll find water dispensers with built-in ice machines to provide an all-in-one ice water serving station.
A sparkling water machine will equip you to serve light but flavorful beverages like infused sparkling water. Mix sparkling water with a little flavored syrup to offer craft sodas that are unique to your establishment. Bartenders can also take advantage of sparkling water to mix traditional cocktails and to create your establishment's own signature drinks.
Insulated Drink Dispensers
Insulated drink dispensers are the equipment to choose when you want to serve hot drinks to large numbers of guests at events and in places like hotels and conference centers. These dispensers are filled with prepared beverages like coffee, and they'll keep the product hot for a few hours.
Insulated beverage dispensers range in capacity from 21⁄2 to 10 gallons or more. They're built with heavy-duty textured plastic that will resist damage from being transported back and forth from the kitchen to the dining venue. They're also equipped with handles, so they're easy to load, unload, and carry.
Insulated carriers are most commonly used to serve coffee, tea, and hot water, though they can also be applied to serve cold beverages. They can also be used to serve broth soups. Insulated beverage dispensers are available in many colors so you can find one to match the rest of your equipment.
Plastic Beverage Dispensers
The most basic and economical type of beverage dispenser is the plastic beverage dispenser. These containers come in 2- to 5-gallon dispenser versions and provide affordable solutions for serving drinks at parties and at catered events. They are not insulated and contents will warm rapidly when left at room temperature, so they're best used when each batch of beverage will be dispensed quickly.
Glass Beverage Dispensers
Glass beverage dispensers are decorative alternatives to plastic beverage dispensers. They're suitable for more upscale scenarios like weddings and similar catered events. Glass dispensers are available in many designs, from the rustic to the elegant, so it's easy to find a one that matches the mood of your event.
Glass dispensers hold from 1 to 3 gallons of a beverage. Like their plastic counterparts, these are best for serving drinks that won't sit for long, since they're not insulated and their contents are quickly affected by ambient air temperatures.
Iced Tea Dispensers
Most tea dispensers are designed to interface with tea brewers, so you can brew tea directly into the container. Brew-through lids offer the ultimate convenience by covering the tea but still allowing it to be brewed into the container. These containers hold 31⁄2 to 4 gallons of tea on average. Narrow tea dispensers are designed to save countertop space without sacrificing volume.
Larger square tea containers are often built with sight gauges that allow staff members to monitor how much tea is left, so they can be sure to brew a new batch before they run out. Most tea dispensers are equipped with handles, so they're easy to carry to beverage stations or wherever else tea is served. Some dispensers include drip trays to keep drips off the countertop and help you keep a neat and tidy beverage station.