Last updated on March 8th, 2023 at 11:42 pm
Standing out is tough in the restaurant and bar industry—but you just might be able to do it with something you probably don’t think about often: ice. Customers usually don’t pay any more attention to the ice in their glasses than you do. It’s the exact kind of ice they expect—the same kind they see in every restaurant, bar, coffee shop, and convenience store.
What if the ice you served at your business made them stop and notice? What if it changed your entire brand for the better?
Specialty ice has the power to do just that.
What is Specialty Ice?
Specialty ice differs from standard ice types either in size or shape, sometimes both. Certain specialty ice cubes are oversized, big enough that you only need one per glass. Other specialty ice types have an unusual shape compared to the common crescent cube or the classic square. Flake ice types, in a class of their own, are far softer than cubes and shine in totally different contexts.
Specialty ice includes, but is not limited to:
- Hoshizaki’s sphere, 2×2 square, classic square, top hat, and cubelet ice
- Manitowoc’s dice, half dice, and gourmet cubes
- Scotsman’s big cube, gourmet cube, and nugget ice
- Kold-Draft’s big cube and cocktail cube
- Ice-O-Matic’s gourmet, grande, and pearl ice
In all likelihood, you won’t be able to rely on specialty ice as your only or primary ice type. Specialty ice is best used as a supplement to standard ice in restaurants and bars. So, if you already have standard ice that works just fine, why consider adding a second, unusual kind of ice?
Form and Function: Why You Want Specialty Ice
Specialty ice adds a wow-factor to your beverage menu in one simple step. Want to create eye-catching cocktails? Just add a sphere cube or a giant ice square. Want every single drink poured at your bar to deliver an upscale experience? Serve expensive bourbons, scotches, whiskeys, tequilas, and other fine spirits over perfect square ice from any brand.
Specialty cubes will upgrade the aesthetic of your drinks and give your customers the sense they’ve landed somewhere special. Not every restaurant or bar has this kind of ice—be one that does, and your customers will remember you for it.
Thanks to their density, square cubes (both standard and over-sized) and sphere cubes are the slowest melting on the market. Fans of expensive liquors will appreciate the opportunity to sip their libations as slowly as they like without the ice watering the liquor down. Meanwhile, you and your bartenders won’t have to worry about overpouring.
If you want to serve frozen margaritas or other slushie-inspired drinks, you’re going to need soft flake ice. The cubes you typically use for water, soda, and liquor on the rocks are too hard for most blenders to crush daily without meeting an early death. Whether you choose flake or nugget ice, one of these soft, specialty ice types will make it easier to create frozen cocktails and prolong the life of your blenders.
Things to Consider Before Getting a Specialty Ice Machine
So you’ve decided your bar needs specialty ice. Before you call up your food service equipment dealer to buy one, make sure you’re aware of these key points.
Adding another ice machine to your business operations means taking on the new machine’s maintenance costs. All commercial ice machines require professional cleaning and inspection at least every six months, and in some environments, more frequent visits from your trusted service technician will be necessary. An average ice machine maintenance visit usually costs $400-$500, and while it may be tempting to skip it altogether to save money, that’s a risky mistake to make with a specialty ice machine.
Consistent, high-quality maintenance is critically important for specialty ice machines, as these units are more delicate and prone to breakdowns than standard models. Professional cleaning and inspection help prevent mechanical failure, underproduction, and costly repairs. Proper maintenance is also the only way to keep the ice clean. Mold, slime, dirt, and biofilm are more noticeable in a large cube like the sphere or 2×2 square than in standard cubes. The last thing you need is a customer posting a bad review, complete with cringeworthy picture, because of dirty ice!
Not all technicians have experience with cleaning, inspecting, and repairing specialty ice machines. If you depend on a local refrigeration or HVAC company for your ice machine maintenance, you’ll probably need to find a different service company that specializes in commercial ice machines to take care of your specialty ice machine. Poorly performed deep cleaning, maintenance, and repairs will leave your specialty ice machine just as vulnerable to contamination and mechanical failure as no maintenance at all. Make sure the person working on your specialty ice machine knows what they’re doing.
Specialty ice machines are often more expensive than standard ice machines, despite the fact they make less ice per day. Restaurant and bar owners shopping for their first specialty ice machine are probably in for some sticker shock. Hoshizaki’s unique sphere ice machine, along with their extra-large 2×2 square cuber, sells for $6,000 on average through most food service equipment dealers. While ice machines that make standard size square cubes and nugget ice may be cheaper than that, expect to end up in the $2000-$6000 range.
Just as with standard ice machines, you’ll also have to pay for maintenance and repairs on your specialty ice machine. Professional ice machine maintenance costs $400-$500 per visit on average and some service companies may charge more to clean a specialty ice machine than a standard model. Repairs—which you want to avoid as long as possible—can be especially unaffordable for specialty ice machines. With the average ice machine repair costing $723.50* and the biggest repairs running as high as $1000-$2000, you’ll need to be financially prepared for your specialty ice machine’s eventual repair bill.
If you’ve purchased a standard ice machine before, you already know commercial ice machines are pricey pieces of equipment. When it comes to deciding whether a specialty ice machine is right for your business, determine what your expected long-term ROI might be. What can you charge for a cocktail that features specialty ice instead of standard ice? How many more customers might you attract with a cocktail menu built around specialty ice? How comfortably can a specialty ice machine fit into your budget for the year?
Talk to your accountant about the financial aspect of acquiring a specialty ice machine before you finalize your decision. It’s also a great idea to ask other restaurant and bar owners and managers you know if specialty ice is worth the investment in their experience.
Buy vs. Rent
If you really want a $6,000 specialty ice machine but can’t afford to purchase it, don’t give up just yet! Renting the ice machine instead of buying it can make your specialty ice goal a reality. Many business owners who already own a standard ice machine find that renting a specialty ice machine makes more sense than forking over the money to purchase instead. Renting is not only easier on the wallet, it also provides flexibility. If, after a year or two, the specialty ice proves to be less popular than you hoped, simply terminate the rental agreement without feeling like you wasted several thousand dollars on a machine you’ll no longer use.
All-inclusive ice machine subscriptions are both the most cost-effective and the most convenient way to add a specialty ice machine to your back of house. In addition to the ice machine, this kind of rental solution covers professional maintenance, repairs, and emergency backup ice. That spares you from spending a large amount of money upfront and also saves you money on ice machine upkeep over time. If your subscription provider employs technicians with solid ice machine expertise and keeps a diligent maintenance schedule, you won’t have to worry about your specialty ice machine failing on you frequently or wonder if it’s being well-cared for.
Why an ice machine subscription like ours instead of a local or regional ice machine rental? Specialty ice machines are predictably harder to find than standard ice machine models, and outside of major cities, rental company technicians are less likely to have experience cleaning and repairing specialty models. With a national rental provider like Easy Ice, you’ll be able to get the specialty ice machine you want and high-quality ice machine service from our expert technicians.
Ready to Take Your Drink Menu from Average to Upscale?
Competition is fierce in the restaurant and bar industry. Setting your business apart takes creativity. Why not make one of the simplest moves toward distinction and add specialty ice to your alcoholic beverages? It’s easy with an all-inclusive ice machine subscription. You don’t have to spend thousands in one day, then pay top dollar for maintenance and repairs on your specialty ice machine. Instead, you can get the specialty ice you need for a monthly payment that covers both the machine and its professional care.
Time to take out your cocktail list and decide which drinks you’ll make special with specialty ice!
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