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April 2001
Issue
By Jennifer Hicks
SPECIAL REPORT: Making Frozen Beverage Machines Work For You

Sure, there’s profit in high-volume frozen beverages—if you choose the right machine. Check out these top freezers with three things in mind: your product, volume and peak periods.

So you’ve heard that frozen beverage service offers a quick and easy way to wealth and popularity. Put frozen margaritas on the menu, hang out a sign and watch ’em come, cash in hand. Right?

Well, almost. It’s true the money-making potential of frozen beverages is mind boggling—some operators rake in as much as 80% gross profit per serving, depending on the product. But your path to profit begins as all paths do: at the beginning, where critical decisions will be made. What will you serve, and from which machine?

Note that we’re reviewing noncarbonated frozen beverage machines, also known as barrel, batch, continuous or frozen cocktail freezers; we’re leaving carbonated machines to another story. And why noncarbonated beverage freezers? Because they’re the best choice for high production that doesn’t require a “show and sell” machine. Those of you heavy into the visual hook—and, generally speaking, doing less than 50 servings an hour—should look into bubble-tops, also called visual machines. (We include suppliers of bubble-tops in our box on page 38.)

Which brings us to the seven suppliers you see here. We’ve gathered key specs on full lines from Carpigiani-Coldelite of America, Electro Freeze, Frosty Factory, Grindmaster Crathco Systems, SaniServ Mfg., Stoelting and Taylor Co. And more importantly, we’ve asked all of them for tips on getting into high-volume service, defined here as more than 50 drinks an hour.

Think Big Picture
So how much for one of these machines? You’ll shell out a minimum of $4,500 for a countertop single-head beverage freezer, and nearly twice that for a sophisticated, remotely refrigerated unit. So before you tap the corporate checking account, figure out what to serve and in what sizes, and how much you expect to sell. And then make an educated guess as to your peak periods and days.

Happily, all these units are versatile, so your beverage options will be pretty much limitless. These freezers churn out frozen cocktails, coffees, cappuccinos, lemonades and granitas. Several units also are certified for dairy-based smoothies. If you’re serving families or youths, stick with the obvious: nonalcoholic anything. Running an upscale adult hot spot? Try frozen cappuccinos and mochas.

For a supper club crowd, frozen cocktails are the way to go, and here the choices set the mind reeling: margaritas, pina coladas, rum runners, hurricanes…Chances are you can make a frozen concoction out of almost any cocktail you’re already serving.

Next, work out serving sizes. Typical frozen beverage service calls for 10- or 12-oz. servings and up to 16 oz., although some rules of common sense apply. A 16- or even 20-oz. slush makes sense in some places, but you might not want to go to 16 oz. for a rum runner. Depends on your market.

By the way, the upscale term “granita” has replaced the word “slush” in most everyone’s lexicon. Some also call it “gourmet slush.” Whatever the name, it’s the same stuff—and you might still want to use “slush” if you’ve got a big kids’ market. (Didn’t Shakespeare say something about a rose by any other name?)

Moving on, figure demand. Suppliers say a classic mistake is underspecifying for anticipated volume, which causes all manner of difficulties, including product degradation when you overdraw during busy spells. And we don’t have to tell you how uncool it’ll look if your machine isn’t up for your 32-oz. frozen margarita pitcher promotion on Friday night.

So for high-volume service, spec your machine for your peak period on your busiest day. This rule doesn’t necessarily apply to smaller shops whose business might be seasonal, for example, but if you’re a 150-seat dinner house, for example, set to serve frozen cocktails nightly, the rule works.

Nosing Around Inside
Before we get into spec tips, let’s review what’s available in beverage freezers. The typical unit is a single-head countertop model, although some suppliers also offer floor and/or double-head models. To fill the machine you manually add liquid product or you rely on an auto-fill option. Liquid auto fill usually taps a bag-in-box, while powdered auto fill combines your mix and water inside the machine. In places where more than 150 drinks are drawn an hour, suppliers say as many as 80% of machines sold use liquid auto fill.

Hopper capacity’s important for refill purposes in ops that manually fill their machines. The larger the hopper, the less labor spent on refilling. However, when you get into auto-fill territory, hopper capacity becomes less of a labor issue because your machine pumps in the product for you.

For an edge in speed of service, keep in mind some suppliers offer refrigerated hoppers, which help reduce freeze time by cooling the product even before it goes into the freezing cylinder. If you go with manual fill, you can accomplish the same thing by storing liquid product in your walk-in cooler so the mix is cold before going in.

Inside the unit, product flows down from the hopper into a freezing cylinder or barrel. As the mix freezes, an auger scrapes the sides of the barrel to dislodge frozen crystals and blend them continuously. When the mix has frozen to the desired consistency—there are torque or product temperature sensors on most machines that monitor consistency—your frozen product is ready to draw directly from the freezing cylinder via a front-mounted spigot with handle.

When you’re sizing machines, look first at rated production, expressed as gallons per hour. Then multiply gph by 128 oz. to convert production to ounces per hour. Then divide by your serving sizes in ounces to figure yield in drinks per hour.

So, reducing this to simple terms, you can assume that a machine rated for 5 gals./hr. will give you 64 10-oz., 53 12-oz. or 40 16-oz. nonalcoholic servings an hour. But that’s just a guide. Alcohol changes yield dramatically—we’ll cover that later—and even the sweetness of a mix, called its “brix,” can affect hourly yield. More sugar means longer freeze time.

Also, since we’re talking refrigerated equipment here, note that your production capability will suffer if you haven’t left enough room for the machine to breath or if your ambient temps are high. It’s a condenser efficiency issue. Don’t crowd your machine’s vents—leave at least six inches around—and don’t butt your unit up against a conveyor toaster. Don’t put two freezers side by side, either; they’ll choke on each other’s expelled heat.

Btu Ratings Vs. Horsepower
Assuming your machine will be placed to allow adequate breathing, your production capability will be a matter of freezing-cylinder size and compressor power, and the relationship between the two. In other words, you might have the biggest cylinder around, but if your compressor doesn’t have the oomph to keep freezing fast enough, all the cylinder space in the world won’t translate into frozen product when you need it.

So compressor power makes a difference. When comparing compressor power ratings, though, beware. The traditional method is to compare horsepower ratings, and most makers still provide that number. Some hesitate, however, preferring to focus on Btu ratings. (Btu transfer is actually the issue here, so that makes sense.)

The problem is that Btu rating figures are not standardized. Each compressor maker tests its own units under its own chosen test conditions. And then things get even more complicated. Some refrigeration equipment makers quote the compressor maker’s figures and leave it at that. But others re-run the compressor tests in their own refrigeration units, under their own (different) test conditions.

All this data is usable, of course. But you have to be very clear on what numbers came from where.
A final note on power: The barrel/power relationship also means remote refrigeration is the best option for high-volume types doing more than 150 drinks per hour, since going remote gets you the higher-powered compressors while taking the noise and heat out of your bar area.

Ah, The Question Of Alcohol
So say you’re that 150-seat dinner house looking at frozen cocktail service. With a single-head beverage freezer you’ve got two options. First, you can prepare a neutral base, and then, as you draw servings you can add the flavoring and/or alcohol desired to make signature drinks. This gives you the flexibility to do any number of items from just one machine.

Or second, you can mix one flavored product and the needed alcohol together in the machine. You’re limited to one drink this way, but that may be all you need, and a ready-to-serve drink is simply one draw away.

Which way to go? Coupla things to consider: First, some areas of the country do not allow you to add liquor to the machine anyway, so check on this.

But more importantly, alcohol slows freeze time. If your machine allows you to draw 16 10-oz. drinks an hour, adding alcohol might clip you back to 10 10-oz. servings per hour. Among these suppliers, the word is you’ll sacrifice anywhere from 30% to 50% in volume per hour for the high-octane mix compared to the nonalcoholic brew. So be clear on what you can expect in hourly production if you’re tipping the bottle.

By the way, you won’t be alone if you add alcohol to your mix. Despite this antifreeze effect, the vast majority of frozen cocktail makers add alcohol, say suppliers, because it’s easier to control alcohol portioning this way, and the drawn product’s ready to serve.

Behind Door Number Three…
At first blush these beverage freezers look an awful lot alike, which is a function, mainly, of their relatively simple design. Slushing up flavored sugar water isn’t rocket science. What’s important to you, though, is what you can get from whom. In the spec boxes we offer details on full lines, and below we note details on high-volume models available from each company. Keep in mind production ratings do not account for alcohol.

First up alphabetically, Carpigiani-Coldelite of America comes to market with two high-volume beverage-freezers. The higher-volume unit, the single-head countertop UC-251, checks in with a production rating of 12 gals./hr. Compressor relies on 1 hp, and cylinder capacity is 21&Mac218;2 gals. Units are made by Carpigiani, a 57-year-old Italian company and key international supplier of frozen treat machines. Carpigiani-Coldelite has been importing machines from Carpigiani since 1964.

Electro Freeze steps up with 11 base models—counter and floor units, all single head—in its slush and cocktail freezer line. Model 810’s a high-volume producer, rated at 25 gals./hr. Cylinder capacity on the 810 comes in at 21&Mac218;2 gals., while compressor horsepower is 2. Electro Freeze, a family business founded in ’37, has been making beverage freezers for 55 years.

Next up: Frosty Factory, which has been manufacturing beverage freezers since ’82, offers 13 countertop models under the names Petite Sorbeteer and Sorbeteer. Models come in single- and double-head configurations. Model 215-F is the highest-volume producer in Frosty Factory’s line, with rated production at 30 gals./hr. It’s a double-head machine with two 2-gal. cylinders and a 3-hp compressor.

Grindmaster Crathco offers 11 models in its countertop lines, the 3000 Series and the 5000 Series. Model 5512, a double-head high-volume producer, gets you a 1-hp compressor, 11&Mac218;2-gal. cylinder capacity per side, and total rated production of 14 gals./hr. Grindmaster began offering beverage freezers in the mid-’90s, after its buyout of Wilch, which had made them since ’62.

SaniServ’s 12 base models—10 counter units, two floor—include the high-volume Models 704 and 714. They’re the same unit, with the 704 in countertop config, the 714 as a floor model. Rated production is 30 gals./hr., cylinder capacity is 2 gals., and compressor horsepower is 2. SaniServ’s been manufacturing since the early ’50s; the company was founded in ’29.

Stoelting’s five base-model freezers include the single-head SO218/SO318, rated at 16 to 18 gals./hr. The 218’s a manual-fill-only machine; the 318 steps up to auto fill. Cylinder capacity comes in at 2 gals., while the compressor runs on 2 hp. Stoelting, a family company, has been making soft-serve freezers since ’05 and added beverage freezer production in the ’80s.

And finally, Taylor antes up with 16 base models—the most in this group—in floor and countertop configurations. Its RD30 with remote condenser offers a rated production of 18 gals./hr. from a 13&Mac218;4-gal. cylinder. And compressor horsepower on this unit is 21&Mac218;2. The 75-year-old company has sold freezers since ’60.

As for maintenance, beverage freezers keep things simple, although the rules change for dairy. When you’re doing nondairy drinks, clean machines completely at least once a month, advise suppliers. The drill: dump product, break down and clean removable parts, run sanitizer, lubricate rubber parts, reassemble and go.

There’s little risk of bacterial growth with nondairy sugar-based products, and because of that some operators store batches of nondairy product in their machines for several days. Remember, though, that Big Brother is always watching, and he looks a lot like your local health inspector. So you know who to call for local regs on holding.

Cleaning for dairy is another story entirely. Codes require daily disassembly and sanitizing of beverage freezers that run dairy mixes. Consider a few last points. When asked what common errors operators make with beverage freezers, suppliers had plenty to say.

Some Final Thoughts
First, if you’re mixing product yourself, don’t skimp on sweetener. With less sugar comes more water, which creates larger ice crystals—or a less smooth product—and greater potential for machine freeze up. And as the machine freezes, it stresses all internal mechanisms. (Think grinding metal noise and you’ll get the point.)

Second, don’t overdraw. When you don’t allow sufficient recovery time, say, after pulling a dozen drinks in a row or two pitchers right after each other, your auto-fill machine will keep delivering, but you won’t want what you get. Overdrawing produces slushier, less silky product.

Finally, once you’ve got the machine, promote the heck out of it. Lighted visual displays and machine decals go a long way, but you also need merchandising aids anywhere your customer’s eye might wander. The key to making a frozen beverage program work is good marketing, and machine suppliers can help you there, too.


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