How Much Ice Should Your Commercial Ice Maker Produce?

Finding the right-size commercial ice machine is a crucial step toward success for any foodservice operation, from restaurants and bars to college and hospital cafeterias. 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 countertop commercial ice maker may suffice for most convenience stores.

Luckily, there are some trusted guidelines that can provide direction in creating an estimate of your ice production needs. The amount of ice you need will largely be dictated by what type of business you have, an estimation of the number of seats in your eatery, and the cubic feet of 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 add 20 percent to your estimate to allow room for growth and especially busy days. If you undersell yourself, you may have to supplement your production capacity by sending employees to purchase bags of ice at a convenience or grocery store.

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. For example, 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 with a 420 to 440 pound capacity. However, this may not be the case for applications where the ice is not constantly being used, such as an event hall. In these cases, a bin that holds 1.5 times the daily production amount might be preferred, as ice will typically have more time to build up in those situations.

The Right-size Commercial Ice Maker for a Restaurant

Sizing an ice machine isn't an exact science, but the type of service your business offers can help you determine how much ice you will need. If you offer a mixture of these services, you may be able to use past sales, if available, to determine the ice production requirements for each, then add those together for your total. Depending on your restaurant's layout, you may be better served by having separate ice production in certain areas, like the bar. Remember to add 20 percent to your estimate to allow for growth and especially busy days.

  • Standard: The standard suggestion for most restaurant operations is 1.5 pounds per customer.
  • Cocktails: While beer doesn't require ice, if your bar will serve mixed drinks like margaritas and daiquiris, you should plan for about 3 pounds of ice per customer.
  • Water: If you bring each customer a glass of water before taking drink orders, your operation will require more ice. Add 5 ounces for every 7- to 10-ounce glass of water.
  • Self-service: If your restaurant includes a self-service beverage station with an ice dispenser, you will need more than the standard 1.5 pounds per person, as customers are more likely to get refills and take drinks to go. Plan for 2 to 3 pounds per customer from a self-serve dispenser.
  • Drive-thru: Because customers coming through a drive-thru will not get refills, they will typically use less ice than the standard 1.5 pounds. Calculate your drive-thru ice machine needs based on the number and sizes of drinks you sell or expect to.
    • 7- to 10-ounce cups: 5 ounces per drink
    • 12- to 16-ounce cups: 8 ounces per drink
    • 18- to 24-ounce cups: 12 ounces per drink.

Sizing a Commercial Ice Maker for...

Convenience Stores

If you will sell beverages at a convenience store, the recommended ice production is the same as those given above for drive-thru operations, since convenience stores typically 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 use 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

Hospitals use a lot of ice for meals and medical purposes. When buying an ice machine for a hospital, 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. Nursing homes need slightly less at about 6 pounds per patient bed. Keep in mind, though, that this is only an estimate for patients' ice; the cafeteria and staff rooms should be calculated separately.

Event Halls

For event halls that are only used sporadically, a bin that is larger than the daily output allows for more to be in storage when it's needed. However, keep in mind that this may mean the machine does not have time to replenish the bin between any back-to-back events. The recommended amount for an event hall or church fellowship hall is 2 pounds per person.

Hotels & Motels

Hotels and motels often provide ice machines on each floor for guests to fill provided buckets or to chill drinks. For these purposes, allow 5 pounds of ice per day per room, but add another 2 or 3 pounds to that if you'll allow people to fill coolers from your commercial ice makers. Also keep in mind that you will need additional ice machines for restaurants, bars, and event halls.

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 pound 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 35 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.

Quick Reference Ice Guidelines

ApplicationGuidelines (+20% for Safety)Ice Production for 100 CustomersIce Production for 250 CustomersIce Production for 500 CustomersIce Production for 1000 Customers
Restaurant1.5 lbs. per person180 lbs.450 lbs.900 lbs.1,800 lbs.
Self-Serve3 lbs. per person360 lbs.900 lbs.1,800 lbs.3,600 lbs.
Drive-ThruBased on drink sales: - - - -
5 oz. per 7-10 oz. cup38 lbs.94 lbs.188 lbs.375
8 oz. per 12-16 oz. cup60 lbs.150 lbs.375 lbs.600 lbs.
12 oz. per 18-24 oz. cup90 lbs.225 lbs.450 lbs.900 lbs.
Cocktail Bar3 lbs. per person360 lbs.900 lbs.1,800 lbs.3,600 lbs.
Hotel Rooms5 lbs. per room600 lbs.1,500 lbs.3,000 lbs.6,000 lbs.
Extended Events2 lbs. per person240 lbs.600 lbs.1,200 lbs.4,800 lbs
School Cafeterias1 lb. per person120 lbs.300 lbs.600 lbs.1,200 lbs.
Hospitals10 lbs. per person1,200 lbs.3,000 lbs.6,000 lbs.12,000
Nursing Homes6 lbs. per person720 lbs.1,800 lbs.3,600 lbs.7,200 lbs.
Grocery Store35 lbs. per cu. ft. of display - - - -