The history of (free) ice is as old as the modern hotel. Be they cubes or nuggets or the more avant-garde gourmet ice, the average hotel patron loves the chill of their beverage to come from a healthy dunk of ice. Nearly 70 years into its journey as a free commodity in every hotel hallway and reception alike, the humble hotel ice machine has become a household expectation, an implicit tie-in to every key card. Given its demand and the many factors that affect the safety and quality of your hotel’s ice, it is paramount that your commercial ice machine investment is as savvy as it is safe. In this article, we discuss the history, selection, and important factors to consider before paying the price for your ice (and its ice machine).
What Is a Commercial Ice Machine?
Commercial ice machines make ice by condensing clean water through a condenser. Apart from stronger compressors and more efficient refrigeration, ice machines are not too different from refrigerators. Depending on the mechanism utilized to condense water, commercial ice machines can be air-cooled or water-cooled. Some commercial ice machines even have a remote condenser to isolate their noise and heat to a separate area. While air-cooled ice machines are the most energy-efficient and water-efficient, they are poorly suited for high-temperature locations. Most commercial ice machines either store produced ice in a storage bin, or utilize a dispenser to dispense ice on demand. While hotels usually employ the dispensing variant, storage ice maker machines are the less preferred choice for hygiene reasons, as we’ll discuss in the sections below.
Why Should Hotels Have Ice Machines?
Hotel ice machines are as abundant as they are free to use. The legacy of the ever-giving hotel ice machine, however, outdates even some of the first ever hotel franchises. An idea born to Kemmons Wilson in 1952, the founder of The Holiday Inn had such disdain for the then per-cube ice-selling business in erstwhile hotels that he added free ice machines to his own. When the Holiday Inn exploded as the first large hotel franchise across the country, the idea of free hotel ice gained traction. In the next few years, it became a ubiquity. But the story of ice and hotels stretches even further. In the pre-refrigerator era of the 1890s, hotels were the first businesses to explore industrial ice machines as an equal, if not better, answer to naturally produced and sold ice. But why was ice so important? The answer is rather simple: Everyone loves ice. Be it in drinks, ice creams, canteens, chilled salads, and meats, or on bruises and sprains, the utility of ice is endless, more so in a hotel milieu.
Given that the answer to whether ice machines for hotels are a good idea has been a resounding yes for decades, the next question is perhaps just as important: What type of commercial ice machine is the best for your hotel? We address this question and more in the next section.
How to Choose the Right Commercial Ice Machine for Your Hotel
The first choice in your ice machine decision tree is going to be between a modular ice machine and an ice dispenser. The modular ice machine is capable of dispensing up to 1000 lbs. of ice per day. Unlike an ice dispenser, the modular machine dispenses ice into its own open storage bin. Despite being the most popular ice machine in the hospitality industry, its large storage capacity is offset by manual usage and volatile hygiene when placed in a public area. Thus, modular ice machines are better suited for bars, restaurants, and cafés, while the ice dispenser is ideal for hotels. Operated by a single button or lever, ice dispensers isolate the storage bin by enclosing it. Instead, the button releases ice piecemeal for customers to add to their beverages and buckets. While modular commercial ice machines can be remote-cooled or under-counter, ice dispenser machines are countertop, ice/water combination machines, or – you guessed it – hotel ice dispensers. Therefore, your next decision will be the variant of the ice dispenser. The features of the two popular machines, countertop and hotel, deserve closer inspection before making your choice:
Countertop Commercial Ice Machines
Smaller than the under-counter and modular/hotel ice machines in this section, the countertop commercial ice maker still promises high ice output that can go up to 400 lbs. per day. This makes the countertop machine a perfect fit for dispensing ice in small hotels, receptionist counters, and dining areas. Apart from being self-contained, this handy appliance can produce different kinds of ice – half-cubes, nuggets, crushed, or ice chips. Nuggets, or ‘chewblets’, are the most common countertop ice. It is important to keep in mind that some countertop units may also be modular style, to save space and limit the icemaking to a remote location where space is more readily available.
Hotel Ice Dispenser
The hotel ice dispenser is named after the industry where it is most prevalent. Comparable in size, power, and capacity to the modular unit, the hotel ice machine is a ready dispenser that can hold up to 150-200 lbs. of ice at a time. Most hotel ice dispensers do not include the icemaking machines themselves, which makes them perfect for hotel and motel use where availability and real estate are most important. Of note is also the fact that all hotel ice dispensers are ADA-compliant, meaning that access to the wheelchair-bound is guaranteed. Given the power of their condensing units, most hotel ice dispensers are designed to serve buckets as opposed to single beverages and serve sufficient ice at once to be less suited for glasses and cups than countertop ice machines.
Undercounter Commercial Ice Machines
The under-counter ice dispenser is the compact, modular answer to the hotel ice dispenser. While unsuitable for public use, this machine is great for staff use in busy hotel receptions and dining areas. Also self-contained and easy to fit under the countertop, it produces up to 300 lbs. per day and stores the ice in a storage bin for ease of use and accessibility.
Combination Ice/Water Machines
Combination ice and water machines take the size and usability of countertop ice machines a step further by producing both ice and chilly water for consumption. However, their enclosed storage bins do not carry more than 50-100 lbs. of ice at one time, and their production capabilities are under 500 lbs. of ice per day, which makes them perfect for countertop customer operation.
Apart from the type of ice machine for your hotel, here are a few other factors to consider before making purchasing an ice machine for hotels:
The Type of Ice: Consider if you want the ice maker to dispense full-size or half-size cubes, gourmet ice, crushed ice, or nuggets. Though it may seem trivial, every type of ice has its perks. For example, half-cubes are most commonly used in alcoholic drinks, and ice chips dissolve much quicker than regular ice. Nuggets are chewable ice that is soft and crushed in consistency, while crushed ice is great for keeping drinks and food chilled for a short period.
Ventilation: Ventilation is most relevant in high-temperature or humid locations, especially in the case of air-cooled ice machines. In any case, poor ventilation can still negatively affect the power consumption and efficiency of any ice maker.
The Water: the quality of the ice machine’s feedwater is extremely important for hygienic and even maintenance reasons. Indeed, hard feed water can result in mineral deposits in the ice machine’s condensing unit that can cost a fortune to remove.
The Power Source (i.e., the voltage required to function)
The Water Source
What Are the Best Ice Machines for Hotels?
Scotsman HID312AB-1 Meridian Countertop Air Cooled Ice and Water Dispenser
This push-button combination machine outperforms other combination ice makers in the same category with ease. The HID312AB-1 is a countertop machine that utilizes only 12 gallons of water per 100 lbs of ice. Its design occupies lesser space on commercial kitchen platforms and serving areas, and its stainless-steel evaporator and removable sink and grill simplify maintenance. The device requires 115V to operate, producing nugget ice and chilled water at a cool 4.9 KwH per 100 lbs of water.
Scotsman NS1322A-32 Prodigy Plus Series 22” Remote Condenser Nugget Ice Machine
Scotsman’s NS1322A-32 is a powerful and efficient commercial ice machine. With a production capacity of 1360 lbs. per day, its nugget ice even consumes 40% less water and 15% less energy during production, making the machine a formidable power saver to boot. Its separately sold remote condenser ensures that the typical noise and extraneous heat of an ice machine can be safely isolated to a less critical location, such as the outside or storage area of hotel hallways. Coolant lines connect the ice machine to the condenser, ensuring that ice production continues undeterred by their distance. The Prodigy Plus machine is an excellent choice for your hotel.