Ice Machines: Three Factors to Consider Before Your Next Purchase

Congratulations—you’ve made it roughly halfway through the summer season!

At this point, your kitchen equipment is no doubt being put to its paces; warmer temperatures mean warmer kitchens, making your equipment work that much harder. Let’s take a moment to review one of the heavy hitters in your kitchen—your ice machine. Your ice machine is a critical link in the chain of operation in your restaurant, and this is the time when you may be considering a replacement or upgrade. Here’s what to look for before purchasing your next ice machine:

Ice Types and Sizing

The worst mistake you can make when purchasing an ice machine is not sizing according to your needs. Not having enough ice will send you packing to the store in the middle of service, and contrary to popular opinion, sizing up and having an abundance of ice is hardly ideal—leftover and wasted ice may slowly melt in the bin, contributing to bacteria and mold growth.

Your ice usage will vary depending on your operation. For example, a restaurant owner can estimate 1.8lbs per person, whereas a cafeteria can get by with slightly less. These estimations are great for anticipating dining room needs, but they don’t include ice required for other back of the house operations like kitchen or bartender needs. Factor both your back and front of the house ice needs and size your machine according to your usage.

Calculate Your Ice Usage

The following are approximations in pounds per person unless otherwise noted







Salad Bar               

40lbs per cubic foot

Hotel Guest         

5lbs per room






10lbs per bed


Once you determine how much ice you’ll need, you’ll want to consider the type of ice you’ll want. From full cube, to half cube, nugget, flaked and more, ice comes in a variety of sizes and textures to suit everything from salad bars to cocktails served on the rocks. Narrow down your ice type selection with this helpful infographic from Tundra Restaurant Supply.

Compressor Type

There are three main compressor types available for ice machines: air-cooled, water-cooled and remotely cooled.

Water-cooled machines utilize two different water lines: one to produce the ice, the other to cool the machine. Nowadays you’ll find less water-cooled compressors due to water restrictions and environmental concerns.

The most popular option, an air-cooled compressor circulates air over the condenser to draw heat from the refrigeration lines. As a result, it can be quite noisier than its water-cooled counterpart in warm kitchens (particularly in the summer).

Remotely Cooled
Large machines which produce more than 500 pounds of ice per day can utilize a remote condenser unit. Often times placed on the roof, this type of condenser is air-cooled and tend to be more efficient (and quieter when not in the kitchen!). Initial costs are higher for remote-cooled units since a professional is required to install correctly.


Water filters are your #1 way to extend the life of your ice machine. Not only do water filters keep your ice tasting great, but they actively remove contaminants that could build up within the tubing of your machine. Depending on your region, water filters should be replaced every six months or less.

Another good way to protect your investment for many years to come is to keep things clean. Follow the cleaning and maintenance schedule for your machine and sanitize regularly to prevent (and remove) the presence of scale, slime and mold. Failure to clean your machine could result in scale buildup on evaporator plates, which impedes heat transfer and results in costly repairs.

For more information about commercial ice makers, check out the Ice Machines Buying Guide from Tundra Restaurant Supply.