A self-contained unit gives you the benefit of not having to manually fill the bin, which can save labor and prevent downtime. This convenience is especially important if you are buying a countertop ice dispenser for a self-serve drink station. A self-contained machine is more expensive than a dispenser alone, but if your customer volume fluctuates, it may be more practical to refill the ice as you need it. Ice in the bin that doesn't get used will melt and go down the drain.
The size of the unit you choose will depend on how much ice you need over the course of a day, as well as how much you need to handle your busiest rush periods. In the case of an operator-loaded unit, this will determine the storage capacity you need.
If you choose a self-contained unit, 24-hour production capacity will be the most important thing to consider. Ice production ranges from 125 to 720 pounds per day. A commercial ice dispenser that produces 410 pounds of ice will make enough ice for around (650) 16-oz. drinks a day, which should be enough for high-volume convenience stores. In a busy restaurant that serves three meals a day, you may be serving a lot more than that. For some tips on how to figure out how much ice you'll need, read our guide on sizing a commercial ice machine.
Finally, a good rule of thumb for sizing a hotel ice dispenser is to estimate 5 pounds of ice per room per day, then double that if you plan on allowing guests on road trips to fill ice chests. The ice maker you choose should produce at least the total of that calculation, while the dispensing unit can have a storage capacity as little as half that.
A self-contained ice dispenser will make either nugget ice, flake ice, or full- or half-cube ice. Each style has different characteristics and benefits, making each a better fit for certain applications.
It's impossible not to notice the rise in popularity of nugget ice, also known as cubelet, pearl, gem, or chewblet. Over the past decade, this style has rocketed into position as the most popular type of ice in convenience stores. Many restaurants are also adopting it because customers enjoy its chewable texture and ability to absorb the flavor of the drink it's in. Some businesses even make a tidy profit selling it in bags.
- Soft and chewable
- Chills drinks quickly
- Ice absorbs flavors from beverages
- Shape creates a lot of surface area, cooling drinks quickly
This type of ice is common in grocery stores and fish markets , where it is used to keep produce and seafood chilled without damaging it, thanks to its snow-like, moldable texture. It also plays a big role in healthcare, where it cools drinks without creating a choking hazard and is moldable to fill icepacks.
- Chilled supermarket displays
- Fish markets
- Salad bars
- Cools food and drinks quicker than other ice types
- Easily molds to the shape of the item it is cooling
- Low production costs
Easily recognizable, this type of ice has been a staple in restaurants and ice bagging since the invention of the ice machine. It is available in full and half cubes, with half cube the most popular kind of ice of this type. The full cube style is popular in liquor drinks and fine dining restaurants due to its sophisticated look and slow-melting properties.
- Soft drinks
- Liquor drinks
- Displaces more liquid, reducing beverage costs
- Melts slowly
The compressors in these models can be either air cooled or water cooled. Of the two, air cooled is most popular because these units don't drive utility bills up like a water-cooled one can and typically have a lower initial cost. Unless you choose a remote compressor, this type can raise the ambient temperature in the room because they exhaust the warm air created by the refrigeration system. A remote unit moves the heat- and noise-generating components outside, typically to the roof or otherwise outside your building. Installing one means running refrigerant lines between it and the ice maker. This keeps inside conditions cool and quiet, and can save on energy costs by reducing HVAC demands. The downside to them is they are more expensive to buy and install.
Water-cooled machines can produce more ice using less electricity. Water is pumped through the condensing unit, which absorbs the heat from the refrigerant and carries it away. Models that aren't hooked up to a closed-loop water system dump this warm water down the drain, which raises your utility bill. In some areas, this type is being outlawed due to its waste of clean water. A closed loop system is filled with water once, then it continually cycles the water, chilling it in a cooling tower. The installation costs of closed-loop systems are prohibitive for many facilities, but for operations with a large number of ice machines or other water-cooled refrigeration like resorts, casinos, grocery stores, hotels, and hospitals, it can save a lot of money in the long run.
With a hotel ice dispenser, because there are likely to be a large number of those units in a given facility, the ice maker head units used with them are more often water cooled. Using this type of system significantly cuts down on the noise and heat produced by the compressor in guest areas. It's also more economically feasible and efficient because a single cooling tower can work with every unit in the building.
Ice dispensing is controlled with either a lever or a touch-free sensor. Levers remain the most popular option, though touch-free sensors have become more affordable and more popular in recent years. This type has fewer moving parts, making it more reliable. Because cups don't physically touch the machine, this kind also reduces the risk of cross contamination.
Water Dispensers and Drink Rails
Many models are available with a built-in water dispenser. A water dispenser allows users to grab a cup of water conveniently from the same unit as they get their ice. This feature is especially useful in break rooms and other locations where a drink rail is not mounted nearby. However, you may view this as an unnecessary expense if you are placing it near a drink rail that has water on it.
There are also ice dispenser models available with a drink rail built-in. Also known as a beverage dispenser, a drink rail allows you to dispense sodas or other beverages. If you want the flexibility to create your own drink selection or to add beverages from two different vendors, then buying your own drink rail is a great option. Models are available with anywhere from 8 to 24 drink dispensers.