When to Replace: Beverage Dispensers

A primer on maintaining and replacing beverage dispensers. 

Beverage Dispensers: An Overview

Foodservice operators can choose from a variety of beverage dispensers, so understanding the options available is key to making good purchasing decisions.

Beverage programs have become a point of distinction for a growing number of restaurants and retail foodservice programs.

“Very rarely do operations just offer soda in self-serve beverage programs,” says Ken Reimer, owner of Kens Beverage, a beverage equipment and service provider based in Plainfield, Ill. “Now there is a wider selection of options, including energy drinks and both sparkling and flavored water. People want choices.”

Fortunately, foodservice operators can choose from multiple equipment platforms. Whilemost beverage dispensers are countertop units, operators can also specify drop-in models that fit into a countertop or stand.

Carbonated and non-carbonated equipment is designed to store and dispense ice as well as provide cold beverages. Temperature wise, operators should keep carbonated beverages between 36 degrees F and 38 degrees F. “When served, soft drinks should be less than 40 degrees F or carbonation is lost and ice melts down,” Reimer says.

Most units have one nozzle or valve for each brand or flavor, with between 6 and 12 valves as standard. Beverage dispensers are available in 22-, 32-, 44- and 60-inch wide units. With fountain dispensers, mixing of the syrup and water occurs at the point of dispensing. The unit combines carbonated water and flavored syrup at the proper ratios.

Beverage dispensers utilize either mechanical or ice-cooled refrigeration methods. Used predominantly in foodservice, ice-cooled dispensers employ a cold plate to chill product. These units, which utilize ice as a cooling agent for water and syrup lines, have an unlimited capacity. Mechanical units’ refrigeration system type determines how much volume can be accommodated.

Back-of the-house beverage dispensers typically utilize ice bins adjacent to the units that have capacities between 60 and 100 pounds. Self-service dispensers include top-mount ice makers that feed ice directly into a bin, which can save labor.

Beverage dispensing innovations continue to embrace technology. “Much of the recent developments in this equipment deal with digital volumetric and flowmeter technology, which precisely measure syrup and water,” Reimer says. “Also, newer touch screen technology has been at the forefront with these units.”

How to Know When to Replace a Beverage Dispenser

Operators should be aware of certain signs that indicate a beverage dispenser may need replacing. Here are four such examples.

Significant Water Leaks: If water drips through the bin seal or manufactured chassis, this may indicate a leak in the line or rupture in the corner seal. This could be an indication that the unit has reached the end of its service life. “Also, if the insulation is breaking down, this could cause condensation that results in excess water,” Reimer says.

Aging Unit: Operators can replace many beverage dispenser components, such as valves. It also is possible to upgrade and refurbish these units. Yet, major issues on an older unit may warrant replacement. “When the cost of repairs exceeds 50 percent of the unit’s cost, it’s time to replace the dispenser,” Reimer says.

Worn Appearance: Beverage dispensers used in the front of house should provide quality merchandising. Older self-serve units that appear worn or damaged can compromise the aesthetics of a foodservice operation. In this case, a new beverage dispenser is typically warranted.

Changing Menu: When there is a significant expansion or overhaul of a beverage program, the dispenser may no longer meet the operation’s needs. When capacity needs increase or different beverages will be added to the menu, a new dispenser is typically required.

Maintaining a Beverage Dispenser

Following maintenance procedures is crucial so as not to compromise beverage quality and taste. Here are seven tips to extend the service life of a beverage dispenser.

Fountain units don’t require a great deal of maintenance. However, like all equipment, it’s important to follow daily, weekly and monthly maintenance tasks to maximize the beverage dispenser’s service life. “This equipment is used with sugar-based products, which can attract insects and rodents, so it’s important to keep it clean,” Reimer says.

Keep in mind that unit needs may vary, so manufacturer’s recommendations should be followed.

  • On a daily basis, remove and soak nozzles and diffusers in warm, soapy water.
  • At the end of each day, wipe down exterior surfaces. Use soap and water to remove any build-up and/or spills. Refrain from using harsh chemicals and cleaners with high chlorine content when cleaning stainless steel, as they may cause rust.
  • Clean the drip tray with warm water and soap as needed.
  • Regularly flush and sanitize water lines.
  • Remove any coagulation on the valves on an annual basis.
  • Wash out and sanitize ice hoppers and chutes on a monthly basis.
  • Lubricate ‘O’ rings as needed.

How to Specify a Beverage Dispenser

Beverage dispensers are typically sized according to an operation’s foot traffic. Here are five factors to weigh when specifying a beverage dispenser.


When choosing a beverage dispenser, it is important to consider where and how it will be utilized. “This will determine how much ice is used,” Reimer says. “Self-serve applications typically offer refills and use more ice overall, while some locations, like schools, also will require additional ice capacities.”


The amount of brands or products offered will dictate the size of the equipment. Countertop ice/beverage units that are 22 to 24 inches wide typically provide 6 valves. The most common type used for self-service in both quick- and full-serve applications is a 30-inch-wide unit, which accommodates between eight and 10 valves. Large format dispensers, which are 42 to 44 inches wide and provide 12 brands, are most often used in convenience stores and for other retail applications. For high volume use, there also are 60-inch-wide beverage dispensers that have 20 valves.


Operators need to ensure there is enough room not only for the actual equipment but also to store the bag and box syrup. Adequate space should be designated for these items.


Foodservice operators also need to decide how many flavors will be offered. Staple varieties include cherry, vanilla and lemon-lime. One newer innovation is flavor shots, which provide consumers with the ability to customize their drinks. Beverage dispensers are available with up to eight different multi-flavor valves for operations looking to diversify drink offerings. Multi-flavor valves provide up to 16 soft drink varieties in 30 inches of space and utilize four dispense points.

Ice Requirements

A common mistake operators make is underestimating the amount of ice needed for beverage dispensing. When determining how much ice is required, operators need to be aware that as much as 30 to 35 percent of ice will be used to cool water and syrup with ice-cooled refrigeration dispenser units. This means that, for a 250-pound bin, as much as 87½ pounds of ice will not be available for use in dispensed beverages. It’s cheaper and easier to store ice rather than produce it, so operators are better off not oversizing the ice maker.

Energy Efficiency and Beverage Dispensers

Currently, there are no Energy Star-rated beverage dispensers but that does not mean this equipment lacks in energy saving features.

Beverage dispensers do not have high-energy quotients, yet there has been an increased focus on developing units with lower energy consumption.

The majority of beverage dispenser manufacturers have replaced HFC insulation with a water-blown variety, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is less damaging to the environment.

Units that use an ice bank system that is depleted only when the dispenser is in use provide added efficiency. With these systems, water and syrup are recirculated from the back room to the point of dispense.

Newer controllers and technology enable key beverage dispenser components to be turned on and off according to the unit’s usage patterns, which helps conserve energy.

There is now equipment available that has environmentally friendly LED lighting in the merchandising signage area, which can cut down energy use.

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