Australians love an icy beverage. According to research by NPD Group, almost 50 per cent of Aussies purchase a cold drink from a commercial outlet every day, and iced drinks make up a whopping 66 per cent of total beverage purchases for under 35s. And with around 75 per cent of iced beverages purchased as an accompaniment to food, hospitality venues need to be running a strong ice game to keep the revenue rolling in.
That’s why selecting the best commercial ice maker for your cafe, restaurant, bar, hotel, function centre or other food and drink outlet is so important. Get it right and you’ll keep your customers enjoying ice-cold drinks, but get it wrong and they’ll quickly lose patience.
There are some important things to consider when choosing the right commercial ice making machine for your venue. From sizing and production capacity to ambient temperature and your water source, there are many factors that will influence the performance of your commercial ice making machine — and the quality of the ice it produces.
We have compiled this thorough guide to help steer you through the wide world of commercial ice makers. Whether you’re looking to purchase a new or used commercial ice machine, this buyer’s guide will help you find the best commercial ice maker for your needs
Here’s what our commercial ice machine guide covers
- Commercial ice machine terminology
- What are the main things to consider when buying a commercial ice maker?
- Commercial ice maker vs commercial shaved ice machine
- Used commercial ice machine or new?
- How much are commercial ice machines?
- Some of the best commercial ice makers
- Top questions to ask before you buy
- Commercial ice machine FAQs
Commercial ice machine terminology
Understanding industry jargon is the vital first step in your search for the best commercial ice machine. If you don’t know the difference between a condenser and a machine head, check out these definitions:
Air filter: In air-cooled machines, a filter is used to remove particles from incoming air that may block the machine.
Beverage volume: The amount of liquid that fits into a glass after ice is added.
Condenser: Converts liquid refrigerant into a gas during the refrigeration process.
Drainage point: The position of the drainage line that takes waste water out of the ice machine.
Footprint: The space an ice machine takes up in your venue.
Ice bin: The container that is attached to the ice machine to catch and store the ice.
ISO certification: An independent seal of approval that a company adheres to a certain international standard.
Machine head: The part of the ice maker that freezes the water to produce ice.
Melting rate: The length of time it takes an ice product to melt.
Production capacity: The maximum amount of ice a machine can produce.
Refrigerant: A compound that changes from a liquid to a gas and back again during the refrigeration process.
Water filter: The built-in filter that removes impurities from water as it’s pumped into the machine.
What are the main things to consider when buying a commercial ice machine
Styles of ice
There are many different styles of ice — from gourmet ice cubes used for high-end spirits to shaved or flaked iced used to make tasty treats. So the first thing to consider when looking for the best commercial ice maker for your business is the style of ice you need.
This is a more important decision than you may think. It will not only play a major role in determining the type of commercial ice making machine you settle on, but could even affect the profitability of your business.
For example, a smaller ice cube will fill the glass more densely than a larger cube. This will affect the beverage volume you’re serving in each glass. That is, more densely packed ice in the glass means less space for the beverage. Even small per-glass beverage savings add up when multiplied by thousands of servings.
However, while smaller densely packed ice cubes may be fine for lower-end beverages like soft drinks, they might affect the quality of a high-end product. For example, you don’t want crushed or shaved ice diluting a top-shelf scotch.
Here are some common styles of ice to consider:
Full cubes are an excellent multi-purpose choice. They cool drinks quickly and have a slower melting rate than smaller cubes or crushed ice. And, remember, ice isn’t just about drinks. If you’re packing frozen goods for delivery or shipment, the slower melting rate of full cubes might be the best bet for you.
Flake ice tends to be most widely used in edible ice-based treats and desserts like snow cones. Flake ice is also a good option for making blended drinks, and will hold the flavour of the beverage or dessert well. It is also useful as a bed for serving chilled foods such as oysters and other seafood.
While nugget ice may look like crushed ice, there’s a key difference. Crushed ice tends to be made from full cubes, whereas nugget ice is actually made from compacted flaked ice. This makes nugget ice more chewable than many other styles of ice, which makes it particularly good for use in ice-based cocktails such as margaritas. Finding the best commercial nugget ice machine for your needs is a question of the production capacity you require.
Gourmet ice has really caught on in recent years and is still trending in high-end cocktail bars. These large single cubes or spheres are often used to serve top-shelf spirits. Not only do they add a striking visual element to the glass, but the very slow melting rate will not dilute the carefully crafted spirit.
Tube ice is cylindrical with a hollow core. Its slower melting rate makes it a great option for transportation, and is often used for industrial applications. Depending on the quality of the machine you’re using, tube ice also tends to be more energy efficient to produce.
Types of commercial ice machines
There are a few different types of commercial ice machines that will affect your purchasing decision. You’ll need to consider which type of machine is the best fit for your venue in terms of footprint and configuration, and the production capacity each type of machine is designed to deliver.
For example, a self-contained under-bench ice machine might be the best fit for a small cafe where space is limited and a large production capacity is not required.
On the other hand, a modular or freestanding unit may take up more space in your venue, but can generally produce more ice per day. Or if there is a self-service element to your venue, an ice dispenser may be the best option for you.
Here are some common types of commercial ice making machines to consider:
Counter-top ice makers
These compact units are a good solution when you need a small commercial ice maker. They are typically self-serve units and sit on top of a counter or bench. Production volume tends to be quite limited and there is usually no ice storage bin included. This makes them great for low-volume applications such as in office staff rooms, reception and waiting rooms, and small cafeterias.
Under-bench commercial ice machines
Also known as under-counter ice machines, these commercial ice makers are self contained and can be neatly built into counters and benches where space is limited. The ice maker and bin are combined in a single unit, however they tend to have a lower production capacity than freestanding or modular models. This makes them a good option for smaller bars, cafes and restaurants.
Modular or machine head ice machines
These are the big boys of the commercial ice making world. They are larger freestanding units. Different machine heads can be matched with various sized bins to create a more customised solution. They tend to deliver the highest volume of ice, and are a good option for larger cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as function centres and entertainment venues.
These units also tend to be freestanding and have a self-service element built-in. They tend to have a much lower production capacity than modular commercial ice makers, but can be a good option if you don’t need to store ice. Think of ice dispensers as a larger, freestanding version of counter-top ice makers for large self-service venues.
It’s important to remember that the ambient temperature in your venue can affect the performance of your commercial ice maker. All ice machines need to be cooled to ensure the condenser doesn’t overheat, and this can become more of an issue in particularly hot environments.
There are a few different cooling methods that commercial ice making machines use to make ice. Each comes with specific pros and cons, so it’s important to identify where your machine will be used to select the cooling method that will be the best option for your needs.
Air-cooled commercial ice machine
Air-cooled ice machines tend to be the most popular option. Built-in fans are used to cool the machine and ensure optimal performance. They are the easiest to install and maintain, however they require good ventilation so you’ll likely need to ensure there is sufficient space around the machine’s vents. This can be an issue if space is very limited in your venue or in environments with a high ambient temperature.
Water-cooled commercial ice machine
Rather than using fans to cool the machine, water-cooled ice machines pump water around the condenser to keep the machine cool. These are more complex to install as you’ll need a source of cool water to pump in. They also tend to consume more water than air-cooled machines. However, they can be a better option if you can’t provide ventilation space around the machine, or for use in particularly hot environments.
Remote-condenser commercial ice machine
Air-cooled and water-cooled ice machines both have the cooling mechanism built into the machine. Remote-condenser machines, on the other hand, remove the condenser from the machine. It often sits outside the building or in a separate room. These are more costly and harder to install, however they tend to consume less energy and are quieter than air-cooled and water-cooled alternatives.
Water quality and filtration
The quality of the water that’s plumbed into your commercial ice machine will directly affect its performance and reliability. That’s because the minerals found in our water can build up in ice machines over time. These mineral deposits can cause your ice machine to consume more energy, produce misshapen ice, and eventually malfunction.
Choosing a commercial ice maker with a good built-in water filter will help to prevent this mineral build-up and ensure the efficiency and long-term performance of the machine. However, water filters don’t last forever. You’ll need to regularly check and replace the water filter to achieve the best on-going performance.
Alternatively, you can choose to run the water through an external filter before it enters the ice machine. You’ll need to purchase and install the external filter, however this gives you the option of choosing a more robust filter than the built-in filter that’s included in your ice machine. Always make sure any external water filter you install is compatible with your ice machine and does not void the manufacturer’s warranty.
Waste water must be appropriately drained out of your commercial ice maker. If the machine is set higher than the drainage point, then a straightforward gravity drainage system is all that’s required.
However, if the machine is set lower than the drainage point, you’ll need a drainage pump to remove the waste water. Some manufacturers offer drainage pumps as an accessory you can purchase, but keep in mind that it is another component that will require maintenance and can potentially fail.
Ice bin selection
If you’re purchasing a modular ice machine, you’ll need to put some consideration into the bin size you choose. Typically, the machine head produces the ice and drops it into the ice bin ready for use. Most ice bins tend not to be refrigerated, so the storage time is limited before the ice begins to melt.
This makes the size of the ice bin you select very important. It should be as closely matched to the production capacity of the machine head as possible. That is, matching a lower-capacity head with an over-sized bin won’t enable you to store a greater volume of ice. Rather, the pre-made ice will begin to melt in the over-sized bin before the machine head is able to generate more.
Maintenance and servicing
All commercial ice machines require regular maintenance and servicing. Refer to the manufacturer’s servicing guidelines for the particular machine, but usually a commercial ice maker needs to be serviced by a qualified technician once every 12 months. They will flush the lines to clean the machine and ensure no bacteria has built up, as well as change the refrigerant and generally check over the operation and performance of the machine.
Between services, you’ll also need to do some DIY maintenance on the machine. You should replace the water filter every six months — or more frequently if your water source is higher in minerals. You should also clean the air filter at regular intervals to stop a blockage overheating the machine.
When choosing a commercial ice machine, check that the water filter is easy to remove and change. You’ll also want to make sure that the air filter is accessible without having to remove panels.
Commercial ice maker vs commercial shaved ice machine
Shaved ice is great for making all kinds of icy treats like snow cones, slushies and blended cocktails. However, commercial ice makers and commercial shaved ice machines are entirely different pieces of equipment.
A commercial shaved ice machine typically does not make ice. Rather, the best commercial shaved ice machines use a powerful automatic motor to grind pre-made ice cubes into shaved ice, or manual machines with a crank shaft are also available.
Used commercial ice machine or new?
While used commercial ice machines do pop up on online second-hand marketplaces like eBay and Gumtree from time to time, it’s usually a case of buyer beware. It’s difficult to assess whether a used ice machine has been damaged by mineral build-up due to improper maintenance and servicing.
Second-hand machines purchased from online platforms are likely out of warranty, and the size and weight of commercial ice makers can make shipping costs prohibitive.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t save money on a used commercial ice machine. SilverChef's range of Certified Used commercial ice machines are less than 18 months old, fully refurbished, and come with a warranty for your peace of mind.
How much is a commercial ice machine?
The cost of commercial ice machines varies widely depending on the type, size and brand you choose. The largest, high-end commercial ice makers can run you upwards of $10,000, or you can pick up a smaller entry-level model for less than $2,000.
However, if you prefer not to tie up your cash with a major equipment purchase, financing options are available.
For example, SilverChef offers flexible finance options including Rent-Try-Buy®. Simply choose your commercial ice machine, rent it for the first year, and get flexible options during and at the end of 12 months. This includes being able to upgrade to a bigger and better model if your business grows; or purchase the machine if you know you want to keep it. At the end of 12 months you also have the option to return the ice machine to us, if it no longer suits you.
Best commercial ice machine brands
There are a wide range of commercial ice machine brands on the market. From large high-end modular machines to small entry-level under-bench and countertop options, there is a commercial ice machine available to suit all your ice-making needs.
High-end commercial ice machine brands
Hoshizaki is a worldwide leader in high-end ice makers and has built a reputation for designing and manufacturing the world’s best commercial ice making machines. The company manufactures a wide range of high-end cube, crescent, nugget and flaker ice machines, and ice dispensers.
The brand is also highly regarded for the superior reliability of its ice machines, and the company prides itself on its innovative approach to product engineering and commitment to quality control.
Part of Hoshizaki’s success comes down to its use of high quality internal components, all machines are designed by the company’s dedicated Japanese Research and Development team.
In fact, Hoshizaki has a long history in the ice making industry. The company designed and developed Japan’s first fully automatic ice maker, and today serves a wide range of global industries including the food, beverage, bar and restaurant, bio-science, healthcare and education sectors.
The company is also noted for developing Hydro Fluorocarbon-free ice machines that offer superior energy and water efficiency for a more environmentally friendly footprint.
Hoshizaki has also achieved three internationally recognised ISO certifications for its quality, safety and environmental standards.
This all adds up to the highest quality ice production. Hoshizaki machines use fresh water for each ice cycle to consistently produce premium ice with precise shape, superior clarity and slow dilution rates.
Scotsman Ice Systems
Scotsman Ice Systems exclusively designs and manufactures high-end commercial ice machines for the global market. The company’s highly efficient ice systems are designed to deliver superior performance, and all Scotsman ice machines are expertly assembled in company-owned manufacturing facilities in the US, Italy and China.
The company is also committed to continuous innovation with dedicated research and development facilities are onsite at every Scotsman manufacturing centre.
The company also adheres to the highest quality, hygiene and durability standards, and has served more than one million customers in over 100 countries.
Scotsman also maintains a vast network of local service agents. In Australia, Scotsman has partnered with Victoria-based distributor, Moffat.
Scotsman ice makers are available in a range of ice shapes including gourmet, classic six-sided dice cubes, compressed flake nugget and cubelets, and flake. Models are available for small, medium and high production of all ice shapes.
The company also offers ice storage systems for use with its modular ice makers. They enable high storage capacity and come in slope front, ice shuttle and upright storage bin options.
Scotsman also offers a range of ice crushing machines and ice dispensers.
Brema Ice Makers
Brema has been designing and manufacturing quality commercial ice machines since 1985. The company is based in Italy and uses only the best materials and most advanced technologies to make commercial ice machines that adhere to the highest standards.
Brema Ice Makers is ISO certified and has received approval from all European and non-European certifications bodies and has achieved NSF, ETL Listed, ETL Sanitation, WRAS, KC, UKR, S-Mark e RCM certifications.
All Brema products are manufactured to achieve superior energy- and water-saving performance ratings, and are designed for ease of cleaning and maintenance. Brema products are also machine tested and the manufacturing process is carefully monitored by a computerised system to ensure consistent quality across the range.
Available ice shapes include cube, finger, flake and pebble. The company also manufactures fast-ice machines that produce light structured ice perfect for venues that sell a high volume of carbonated drinks. Fast-ice makers are equipped with a
vertical evaporator, and have full and economy modes so you can adjust your production and energy-consumption to suit your busy and slower periods.
The company also makes a cold flake machine that sets ice at around -5°C with a thickness range from 1.5 mm to 2 mm. This gives the flakes a longer melting point, which is ideal for the storage of fish and dairy products, and use in meat cutting, baking and chemical applications. The cold flake machines also feature airtight compressors for use in high ambient temperatures.
ITV Ice Makers
This US company has a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Spain, and has served more than half a million customers around the world in over 30 years of operation.
The family-owned business is committed to developing energy-efficient commercial ice makers through the use of clean and environmentally friendly technologies.
The company’s SPIKA ITV range of cubers has been purpose-designed for to meet the needs of high volume venue such as fast food outlets, and produce dice and half dice ice shapes.
The ALFA range has been designed to produce straight-edge cubes with more cubes made per cycle and optimised storage for superior cost effectiveness per production batch.
GALA Cubers produce classic European-style gourmet ice that is widely used in up-scale venues. The non-conventional large shapes take longer to melt, and GALA Cubers are available in under-counter and taller self-contained models.
The ICE QUEEN series takes diced or granola ice to the next level with a vertical cylindrical evaporator and high-resistance spindle.
ITV also offers a range of storage bins compatible with any ITV ice machine, along with SIRION Ice Dispensers for use in hotels.
Mid- and entry-level commercial ice machine brands
Italian brand Simag has been making quality ice machines for more than 40 years. Its machines are built for solid day-in, day-out performance and are the workhorses of the ice making industry.
The SDE and SHD ranges makes hollow cubes and feature a scotch brite stainless steel body and are available in air- or water-cooled models. They also feature a built-in cleaning system to save time and ensure superior reliability.
If you prefer a full cube, the SCE range is your best bet. The SCE models have been designed for low power and water consumption, and feature the company’s automatic XSafe nautical sanitation system that is fully integrated inside the machine.
The SVD range makes smaller dice cube shapes and features an easy-to-remove condenser filter and front evaporator access for fast self-maintenance. The range also features a self diagnostic system with LED indicators.
For flake ice, check out the SPN and SPR ranges, and the SNM and SMI ranges make nugget and mojo ice. The company also manufactures a range of compatible ice storage bins.
Ice-O-Matic has been manufacturing quality commercial ice machines for more than 50 years. The company makes a full range of cubers and flakers, and the company’s patented Pearl Ice® machines are in high demand around the world.
The company’s AgION™ Antimicrobial Compound is also included in the Ice Series cube ice makers, and the extended seven-year warranty on the company’s water filters has set the industry standard.
The Elevation Series has been purpose-designed for tight spaces, and features one-touch rescaling and sanitising to ensure all ice meets stringent hygiene standards.
GEM Series Pearl Ice® Machines have been designed for decreased water and power consumption, and SystemSafe monitoring technology helps to boost reliability and reduce downtime.
ICE Series Cube Ice Machines are designed for simply operation and maintenance for high-volume applications, and the MFI Series Flake Ice Machines have a low height requirement for restricted spaces.
UK-based Polar has been manufacturing a range of ice machines and commercial refrigeration products for more than 15 years. Polar ice machines are in use in more than 100 countries around the world, and spare parts and accessories are widely stocked for easy servicing and maintenance.
The Polar C-Series Countertop Ice Machine is a good entry-level option for small venues. It is capable of producing 15kg of ice and features a 2kg food safe ice storage bin. It is a manual-fill machine with no water or drainage connection required, and dispenses small, medium or large ice cubes. It operates in a maximum ambient temperature up to 38°C.
The Polar G-Series Under Counter Ice Machine is a slightly larger unit with 20kg ice output. It features a 4kg food safe ice storage bin and the solid door improves efficiency and hygiene. This unit needs to be plumbed into a mains water connection, and has a manual defrost function.
Top questions to ask before you buy a commercial ice machine
It’s important to find the right commercial ice making machine for your needs. You don’t want to overspend on a high-end machine that produces more ice than your venue needs. On the other hand, you don’t want to underspend on a smaller unit that can’t keep up with demand.
Like all things, it’s often best to go to people with real-world experience using commercial ice machines for advice. Seek out other hospitality professionals who can give you accurate insights into how different types and brands of commercial ice making machines perform in the field.
And ice machine dealers and suppliers can of course provide you with the technical specifications and advice you need to reach a final conclusion.
Here are some things you can ask your industry peers:
- Which commercial ice machine brand do you use and why?
- How often does your ice machine break down or need repairs?
- Is the provider reliable when you need their help?
- Do your employees find the machine easy to use?
- What was your experience buying a used commercial ice machine?
- Would you recommend the ice machine you have to others?
Here are questions to ask your dealer or supplier:
- Will this machine suit the needs of my venue?
- What warranty is included?
- How easy is it to get parts from the factory if they are needed?
- What happens if I need an urgent repair?
- How much are hourly callout fees? What about on weekends?
- Do you provide training for my team?
- Why do you recommend this machine?
Commercial ice machine FAQs
How do commercial ice machines work?
While there are some differences in how different types and brands of ice machines function, they generally follow the same process. Water is pumped into the machine head and filtered to remove impurities. The purified water is slowly poured over a refrigerated ice tray to freeze the water in layers to create clear ice.
Once the water is frozen, the ice tray is heated to loosen the ice. Then, depending on the make and model of the ice machine, the ice either slides into a collection bin via gravity, or a cylinder piston pushes the ice into the collection bin.
How much water does a commercial ice machine use?
This is entirely dependent on the production capacity of your ice machine. Of course, the more ice your machine produces, the more water you’ll use. However, it’s important to note that a water-cooled ice machine uses significantly more water than an air-cooled ice machine. That’s because water-cooled machines pump additional water around the condenser coils to keep the machine cool.
How do I clean a commercial ice machine?
Understanding how to clean a commercial ice machine is quite simple. You’ll need to change the water filter once every since months to prevent mineral build-up that affects the performance of the machine. If you purchase an air-cooled machine, it’s also a good idea to check the air filter for blockages from time to time and clean when required. To do so, ensure the ice maker you purchase has an easily accessible air filter that you can get to without the need to remove panels.
Does a commercial ice making machine need professional maintenance?
The short answer is yet. Your ice machine should be professionally serviced by a qualified technician once every 12 months. They’ll flush the lines to clean the machine and ensure there is no potentially harmful bacteria growing inside the machine. They’ll also change the fluids and assess the other components of the ice machine.
How do I install a commercial ice maker?
When it comes to how to install a commercial ice machine, it’s best to consult a qualified professional. Ice machines will need to be plumbed to a water input and a drainage line. It will also need to be connected to power, and remote-cooled ice machines will need to be connected to an external condenser that is separately installed outside or in another room.
What is a commercial shaved ice machine?
Commercial shaved ice machines are a little different to commercial ice making machines. Most shaved ice machines don’t actually make ice. Rather, they use a motor or manual crank shaft to shave down pre-made ice. To find the best commercial shaved ice machine, consider the production capacity you need, the power of the motor, and the blade material.
Thanks for reading our Commercial Ice Machine Buyer’s Guide
This guide has hopefully provided some important insights into the wide world of commercial ice machines and helped you identify what to look for when buying a new or used commercial ice machine.
Remember to always keep the production capacity you need at the front of your mind so you don’t overspend on a machine that’s too large or underspend on a machine that won’t get the job done.
Also keep in mind that air-cooled ice machines will need some free space around its vents, and water- or remote-cooled machines may deliver better performance in high ambient temperatures.
If you’d like the advice and guidance of a professional, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at SilverChef. We have dedicated industry experts available to support you.
Prefer to dive straight in and start looking at the commercial ice machines available from our Certified Used collection? Shop our range of commercial ice machines.
Want to know about finance options and what your rental payments could be? Find out more about Rent-Try-Buy® and Lease-to-Keep.
This Buyer’s Guide was prepared with the help of Michael Smart, national product manager at Stoddart. Michael has a wealth of industry experience, and has previously worked for a commercial ice machine manufacturer. Stoddart proves an array of food service, kitchen ventilation, outdoor infrastructure, plumbing, architectural metalwork, and perforated metal products.