Tips for Choosing an Undercounter Ice Maker
Undercounter ice makers give restaurants and bars a space-saving option to provide clean, cold ice for their customers. Designed to fit underneath a typical bar counter, these machines are small but powerful and can make a bartender's life much easier without requiring the establishment to sacrifice the space of a full-size ice maker. Whether you want nugget, top hat, flake, crescent, full-cube, or half-cube ice, KaTom has an undercounter ice maker that will do the job. We'll go over the important features you should understand before choosing an undercounter ice maker.
Consider These Aspects
When making any purchase – especially one as substantial as commercial restaurant equipment – it's important to know what you're choosing between. Learn more about the primary differentiating factors between undercounter ice machines.
All undercounter ice machines are smaller than full-size ice machines because they're designed to fit under a counter to save space and provide easy access. However, not all undercounter models are the same size. Before choosing an undercounter ice maker, you should measure the space where you intend to put the ice machine, and compare those measurements to the models you're considering.
The next thing to consider when shopping for an ice machine is how much ice you actually need. Ice makers are rated by the pounds of ice they can produce in a 24-hour period. This can be a bit tricky for a prospective buyer to quantify, but consider your current ice production, whether it be a full-size machine or not, and compare the production of that model with the quantity of ice you go through in a given day. Do you need that much again, half that much, or a different amount? Models that produce more ice per day will be more expensive than low-production units, so look for a model that can keep up with your needs, but not greatly outpace them. Unused ice isn't helpful, and that money can be better invested elsewhere.
Undercounter ice machines are either air cooled or water cooled. Air-cooled units are by far the most common and easiest to install, but the machine will vent heated air into the premises. Water-cooled units need two water hook-ups – one for ice and one for cooling – and need to run to a cooling station elsewhere in the building. Unless you already have a water-cooling station in your establishment, air cooled is the way to go. You can learn more about air-cooled and water-cooled ice machines here.
Some smaller models have a hinged door that will need room to swing open, and these are typically suited for office break rooms or other small-volume uses. The higher-production models have a slide door that won't require extra space to open, and these are the models most operators think of when they picture an undercounter ice maker. Consider where your future ice maker will be placed and whether or not a hinged door might interfere with operations.
Just because an ice maker can produce 400 pounds of ice a day doesn't mean it can hold 400 pounds of ice at a time. If your establishment requires a stockpile of ice before a 5 o'clock rush, look for a machine that can hold a large quantity of ice in reserve, but if your business is pretty steady, the storage capacity won't matter as much as the replenishment rate.
Condensation from the refrigeration process needs somewhere to go, and undercounter ice machines come with either a simple gravity drain or a drain pump to solve this problem. If your establishment has a location that can accept the runoff, such as a kitchen drain, near the machine, a gravity drain will get the job done. However, if your drain is far away or uphill from the ice machine, you'll need to get one with a pump to ensure the condensate does not get backed up or clogged on its way out of the building.
Most undercounter ice machines are designed for indoor use, but there are models made to be used outdoors. If you need an undercounter ice machine for a poolside or patio bar, consider the machines listed as outdoor units. These will be made to withstand harsh weather conditions and fluctuating temperatures that could damage or ruin indoor models. You can usually expect to pay a bit extra for the increased durability, however.
- ADA compliance: Some machines are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which could be important in certain circumstances.
- Removable air filter: A removable air filter makes maintaining an ice machine simple.
- Alert system: An alert system will notify the operator when the machine needs cleaning and will monitor water quality, along with other issues.
Type of Ice
The last consideration you need to make before purchasing is which type of ice you want. This article goes in depth about the different types of ice and what different manufacturers call them, but we'll give a quick summary here.
These large, rhomboidal pieces melt slowly to preserve the flavor of the drink. They are used in cocktails and soft drinks frequently, as they will cool the drink without watering it down too fast. The downside is their relatively low surface area, which means they don't cool as fast as smaller pieces.
These have the same shape as the full cube but are smaller. Because of their versatility, half-cubes comprise the best-selling ice machines. They strike a balance between cooling quickly and melting slowly, and are frequently used in soft drinks, blended drinks, and applications that do not require a specific type of ice.
Nugget ice is small, cylindrical ice that is sometimes known as Sonic ice for its use in the fast-food chain. This ice is a favorite amongst some customers because it's chewable. Because its small size also cools drinks quickly, this style works best in soft drinks and frozen beverages such as coffees or cocktails.
Flake ice is small shards of ice that are great for displaying merchandise, but less useful in chilling drinks. If you need to keep merchandise chilled while displaying it, this ice can fill that need well. Specific institutions, such as hospitals, use this ice to chill drinks because it is small enough to prevent choking hazards.
Gourmet ice shapes differ between manufacturers. Some are top hat-shaped, some are octagonal, and others are actual cubes. These are typically made for upscale applications and fit with specific drinks, such as cocktails.