How Much Ice Should Your Commercial Ice Maker Produce?

Guidelines for How Much Ice

Finding the right size commercial ice machine is a crucial step toward success for any foodservice operation, be it a restaurant, a bar, or a college cafeteria. While a grocery store that fills hundreds of cubic feet of fresh seafood, meat, and produce displays with flake ice may need a massive machine, a simple countertop commercial ice maker may suffice for most convenience stores.

The good news is, there are some trusted guidelines that, while not a hard-and-fast rule, can give you direction on how much ice you'll need. It depends largely on what type of business you have and an estimate of your ice needs, based on things like number of seats in your eatery and cubic feet in your cold bar. The good news is, if you overshoot and get a commercial ice maker that's too large for your needs, you have room to grow. A good rule of thumb is to create an estimate of your ice production needs, then multiply it by 1.2 to allow space for growth. If you undersell yourself, you can simply supplement by adding another ice machine.

For sizing an ice bin, you'll typically want one that can hold about 75 to 80 percent of what the ice machine can produce. So, a "head" unit, as the production part of large floor-model commercial ice makers is called, with a capacity of 560 pounds per day would work well with a bin of 420 to 440 pound capacity.

The Right Size Commercial Ice Maker for a Restaurant

2 pounds of ice per person – Assume 2 pounds of ice per person you serve or expect to serve. That covers drinks and any ice needs for the kitchen.

3 pounds of ice per seat for cocktails – If you'll be serving drinks like margaritas and daiquiris that are ice-intensive, opt for 3 pounds of ice per seat per turn at your bar.

4 ounces per 10-ounce glass of water – If you plan to give every person you seat at your restaurant a glass of ice water when he or she sits down, that's what it will take.

Special Rules for a Quick Service Restaurant Ice Machine

If you have a self-service beverage station with an ice dispenser in your dining room, you'll likely need a larger commercial ice maker than the one prescribed by the above guidelines. People are more likely to take a drink for the road and replace or add ice when they're in control, so that will impact how much ice you need.

However, that won't apply to the commercial ice machine you use behind the counter for drive-thru patrons, who can only get one serving of a drink. For those folks, use approximately 5 ounces of ice per 7- to 12-ounce cup, 8 ounces of ice per 12- to 16-ounce cup, and 12 ounces of ice per 16- to 24-ounce cup.

Sizing a Commercial Ice Maker for...

Convenience Stores

If you have a convenience store with a drink station, you'll obviously want an ice dispenser and may not even need a bin, though busy sales may require you to seek out storage for your commercial ice machine.

For beverages, the measures are the same as those given above for quick service restaurant drive-thru operations, since typically convenience stores don't offer refills. If you'll be selling packaged ice, simply multiply the weight of ice the bags will hold by how many bags you plan to sell in a day. Meanwhile, if you'll be using a cold plate to hold drinks and ice, up your commercial ice machine's production by 45 percent to account for melting and other loss.

Healthcare Facilities

The guidelines for sizing commercial ice makers for healthcare facilities are fairly simple. Assume you'll need 10 pounds of ice per patient bed each day. That allows for drinks at three meals, plus any ice that may be needed between those for medical reasons. Add another pound for every person served in the cafeteria and you've got your total.

Hotels and Motels

The outline for lodging establishments is also pretty simple and fairly similar. Allow 5 pounds of ice per day per room, adding another 2 or 3 pounds to that if you'll allow people to fill coolers from your commercial ice makers. If you'll operate an events hall with catering, you'll need a separate machine for that space sized at roughly 1.5 to 2 pounds per person you'll host. If you'll do multiple events in a day, host long receptions or meetings, or offer ice-cooled portable bars, plan to double how much ice your machine can produce.

School Cafeterias

Most secondary schools have limited ice needs, since they generally deal exclusively in carton and other non-fountain drinks. However, if your school or college cafeteria offers beverage service with an ice dispenser, you'll want to size your commercial ice maker based on an average of 1.5 pounds of ice per diner.

Grocery Stores

Grocery stores typically use most of their ice in cold displays of products like seafood, meat, and produce. In those settings, assume 30 pounds of ice per cubic foot of display per day. If you'll offer fountain service drinks, follow the standard for quick service restaurant drive-thru operations covered above, unless your store allows refills.

Event Halls, Churches, and Other Occasional Use

Most of the guidelines already covered have been relative to facilities that are used every day, which means they need ice every day. But what about operations that may only need ice once or twice a week? The daily production needs aren't the same, though they may need more in the one or two days they operate than other establishments do. For them, we recommend a smaller head unit mounted on a larger bin, that way they have the storage capacity but are stretching out production so there's no waste. Typically, a bin with the capacity needed (using calculations above for a restaurant) and a maker capable of producing about one-quarter that amount daily (to allow for melt) are a good pairing.