The simple drinks dispenser is often overlooked yet remains critical to cold beverage service. A common addition to many foodservice businesses, it sits unnoticed and unappreciated, quietly displaying drinks at optimal temperatures and ready to serve.
Chilled drinks machines offer a compact countertop solution to guarantee that thirst quenching beverages are always available. Making the right choice for your business will depend on a number of factors. With this buying guide for chilled drinks dispensers we run you through the basics and help you to make sure your cold drinks service goes without a hitch.
Table of Contents
What is a Drinks Dispenser?
What Does the Term ‘Drinks Dispenser’ Include?
Should I Buy a Commercial Drinks Dispenser?
How Do Chilled Drinks Dispensers Work?
Choose a Cold Beverage Dispenser
Temperature Ranges of Juice & Milk Dispensers
Climate Class & Appropriate Placement
Looking Out for Key Features
What Power Requirements Do Drinks Dispensers Have?
Are Refrigerated Juice Dispensers Noisy?
How to Clean a Beverage Dispenser
Manufacturers to Look Out For
Hire & Rent Juice Dispensers
In basic terms, a chilled drinks dispenser is any container or tank designed to hold cold liquid, complete with a tap for easy pouring. The simple format allows drinks to be served quickly and efficiently whilst simultaneously proving to be a great merchandising opportunity. Typically, a countertop piece of equipment, these units house a compact refrigeration system to maintain low temperatures ready for service.
The expression ‘drinks dispenser’ is a broad term that covers a number of different cold beverage machines.
The most commonly used of the drink dispensers, these models be used to hold fruit juices and cordials etc. Juice dispensers with taps are ideal for assisted service and self-serve situations.
Ensuring perfectly chilled milk is always on hand, milk dispensers, also known as milk pergals offer either tank or bag-in-box operation.
Operating at colder temperatures, slush machines strike the perfect balance between juice and solid ice. Read more about commercial slush machines here.
Serving perfectly chilled water with the capability to produce ice if required, these dispensers are ideal for conference facilities, offices and hotels. Find out more about ice and water dispensers in our Ice Machine Buying Guide.
During this guide we concentrate on refrigerated cold juice dispensers and milk pergal dispensers rather than frozen slush machines and ice/water dispensing alternatives.
If beverage service is an intrinsic part of your business, then a drink dispenser with tap will very often be a beneficial investment. The compact countertop design means they can be conveniently positioned on existing surfaces, readily accessible and easy to use by either staff or customers.
Suitable for a multitude of locations, catering drink dispensers can enhance cafes, canteens, cafeterias, buffets and conference venues plus many more, enhancing operational efficiency and ensuring drinks are always served in a timely fashion, in premium condition and at the perfect temperature.
Top Tip: Any chilled drink dispenser with tap should only be used for cold drinks as per manufacturer manual/instructions.
To understand how juice dispensers and milk dispensers work, it’s important to understand the integral components of each chilled drink machine and the role that each part plays in holding and serving beverages.
The base of a catering juice dispenser houses the essential refrigeration components that keep drinks perfectly chilled and creates a sturdy platform to support the tank.
Top Tip: Always keep equipment flat and level. Not only is this an important safety procedure to prevent equipment from falling over and causing potential injury but also prevents potential leaks and problems during chilling and dispensing.
Located at counter level on the base, the drip tray not only provides a sturdy platform on which to place cups and glasses but also catches any drips or spills. It is easy to remove making cleaning quick and simple.
Handle and Tap
The handle allows easy dispensing of any drink. Handles will typically have a push operation however in some models this may operate as a pull lever. Non-drip taps ensure a clean, mess free pour and are fully removeable for cleaning purposes.
Top Tip: When reattaching after cleaning be careful not to thread the taps as you may find yourself with a leak.
Paddle Stirrer and Central Cylinder
Running vertically from the refrigeration system in the base of the dispenser through to the top of the tank is a silver cylinder. It is this central element that chills the juice. The paddle stirrer, also called the agitator, is fitted to the exterior of this cylinder. It continuously moves and stirs the contents to ensure even, consistent chilling and smooth results without sediment.
Sometimes referred to as the hopper, the tank is typically manufactured using a transparent durable plastic. Not only does this allow clear visibility of the contents but also minimises the potential for breakage that would be present with any glass container.
Top Tip: To chill effectively on a factory setting the tank must be full.
These solid cabinets deliver a robust countertop design. Housing a refrigeration system and the milk, either in a refillable tank or as a bag-in-bag format, the main components are encased within a single frame.
Handle and Tap
Operating with either a pull tap, push lever or via a push button, milk pergals are quick and easy to use. The drip-free dispensing taps are typically removeable to ensure high levels of cleaning and hygiene can be maintained.
Providing a sturdy base on which to place glasses and cups during pouring, the drip tray also catches any accidental drips and spills to keep the surrounding area clean. Drip trays are removeable allowing for effective cleaning.
Whether looking to buy a commercial juice dispenser or a milk pergal/dispenser there are multiple areas to consider. Each point should be tailored to your individual business plan and unique requirements. Ask yourself:
- What types of beverage are you going to serve?
Obviously, if you’re wanting to provide milk then a milk dispenser is going to be the right choice while for juice, you’ll need to be looking at a cold juice dispenser. Seems obvious, but also bear in mind whether your juice will be smooth or with pulp. This will ultimately make a difference to the equipment you choose. Always read product descriptions and specifications carefully as while some dispensers are designed to handle anything, not all are capable of handling those juicy bits that some people love. Interlevin’s LJD range of juice machines with options of LJD1 with single tank , LJD2 with double tank and LJD3 with triple tank models is designed to give expert performance with any chilled juice, whether smooth or with pulp.
If you’re looking for versatile equipment suitable for both milk and juice, there are some machines available such as the Promek SF224 Twin Tank Milk/Juice Dispenser that give you that little added flexibility as to the beverages that you can serve. This range also includes the SF112 and SF336 with single tank or triple tank capacity.
Juice and milk dispensers are generally not suitable for smoothies, milkshakes or slush drinks. The thicker consistency and varying temperature requirements will affect the performance of the machines and could potentially be the cause of breakdowns and substandard beverages.
Top Tip: Always check manufacturer recommendations to ascertain if juice dispensers are designed for product with pulp or not, or if equipment can be used for juice and milk (not all are suitable for both).
- How much product do you expect to serve during a day?
When choosing your counter top chilled drink dispenser, regardless of whether you’re serving milk or juice, you need to have an idea of the potential quantities that you’ll be selling. This will influence the tank capacity that you require.
Juice machines will typically have a single tank capacity averaging around the 11 to 12 litre mark while milk pergals offer a little more flexibility with larger 13 litre capacities or mini-serves holding around 3 litres per tank.
- How many flavours do you want to offer?
Drinks dispensers are available with a choice of single, double or triple tanks. Multiple tanks are typically used to provide a choice of flavours however when businesses find that they need extra capacity of one particularly popular drink, the same flavour can be put into multiple tanks ensuring there’s always plenty available, chilled and ready for service.
Milk dispensers can be purchased with a single tank or to accept a single bag in box as seen in the Autonumis UGC00002 Milk Pergal. If you’re looking to offer a choice of milk types, units such as the Autonumis PZC00004 MiniServe Milk Dispenser with twin tanks are available to hold any combination of skimmed, semi-skimmed or full fat products.
- What design and aesthetics will suit your style?
Juice dispensers will all typically follow the same core design, with a tall base to house the refrigeration system and a tank to hold the beverage.
Finishes to the base and sometimes the lid will tend to adopt either a stainless steel or grey aesthetic; a neutral palette that suits a full range of decors.
Tanks, although transparent to allow customers to see contents, may vary slightly in shape. If your business embraces curves and rounded corners then choosing a corresponding tank shape is vital for continuity. For those that love clean, sharp angles then a boxier tank will perfectly fit the bill.
Milk pergals are solid structures available with a white, black or stainless steel finishes to suit a wide range of business styles.
As with any beverage, getting the right temperature can have a major impact on the satisfaction gained and the quality of the product served. All drinks dispensers are designed to hold, refrigerate, display and serve and so work with a temperature range that guarantees chilled drinks remain that way throughout the day.
Juice machines will typically achieve a range anywhere between 1°C and 12°C depending on the manufacturer. This is ample to create optimum conditions and ensure that customers always receive a quality product.
Top Tip: Always empty the tank at the end of the day. Juice machines are designed to hold beverages only whilst on display for dispense, not for long term storage.
Milk pergals will often have a slightly smaller range, generally between 3°C and 8°C to account for the dairy aspect of the beverage. As with other food stuffs it is critical to continuously keep temperatures of any dairy products within a safe range to prevent the growth of bacteria and the product becoming ‘off’ in taste, congealed or thick in texture and potentially harmful. Milk dispensers achieve the consistency that is necessary to keep milk out of the food danger zone, fresh and ready to safely serve.
Positioning of your cold drinks machine may seem obvious, after all you want it to be clearly visible by customers and easily accessible in self-service situations however, there is more to think about when considering the final placement.
Before making your final equipment choice always pay attention to the climate class awarded to each piece of equipment. The climate class denotes the maximum ambient temperature and relative humidity that the dispenser has shown to operate effectively and efficiently in under test conditions.
Placing machines in hotter, more humid environments could impact performance and the quality of beverages served whilst also putting more pressure on the refrigeration cooling system. This leads to equipment working harder to achieve the desired conditions, ultimately leading to reduced lifespan.
Cold beverage dispensers will typically be awarded either a climate class 3 or climate class 4.
Climate Class 3 is for equipment working in maximum ambient temperatures of 25°C at 60% RH (relative humidity)
Climate Class 4 is for equipment working in maximum ambient temperatures of 30°C at 55% RH (relative humidity)
Remember that all refrigeration requires appropriate ventilation. Always leave around 5cm of space around the exterior of equipment for adequate air flow.
Catering juice dispensers and milk pergals are pretty simplistic without intricate technological programs that some other forms of refrigeration may boast therefore key features are quite standard yet still have core benefits to performance and operation.
|Adjustable feet||Equipment must be level to dispense properly: adjustable feet ensure equipment can be stabilised even on uneven surfaces.|
|Measure Gauge||A simple tool that ensures your dispenser is always filled to optimum levels for performance and quality.||Top Tip: Levels of drink in your tank must always remain within the minimum and maximum fill lines.|
|Drip Tray||Serving any beverage can result in stray drips and rogue liquid escaping during the pour whether a member of staff is serving or customers are using a self-serve option. Juice and milk will become sticky and unhygienic quickly if left to fester on work tops and counter surfaces, not to mention the unprofessionalism of an unkempt beverage station. Drip trays are a simple yet effective way of collecting any spills, keeping serving areas clean and tidy. Trays are often removable allowing for mess-free disposal of waste at a time that’s convenient for you.|
|Digital controller or waterproof switches||While a digital controller is simple to operate with precision results, remember that drinks dispensers naturally deal with liquids; spillages could potentially pose issues. Waterproof switches while more rudimentary in their approach to control are simple to use and immune to the negative effects that fluids might have on equipment.||Top Tip: On Promek equipment temperature settings and controls can be found below the drip tray. This will have a factory pre-set to chill a full tank. If you only wish to chill half a tank, turn the dial up to double the original setting.|
|Defrost off cycle for juice machines||All refrigeration requires some form of defrost to remove any possible ice build-up and ensure that the system continues to run efficiently. Off cycle defrost functions promise minimal interruption to performance. The frequency of the defrost is typically determined by a pre-set factory function meaning there’s little manual input required from users.|
|Branding availability||Many drinks dispensers offer the opportunity to brand the equipment. This is a great way to advertise the products you have available, enhance visibility of the machines potentially leading to increased sales and to raise brand awareness.|
Milk dispensers will often be supplied with appropriate signage to correspond with the types of milk that are being served whether that’s full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed.
|Bag in box or tank system for milk pergals and dispensers||Both systems offer easy, effective dispensing of perfectly chilled milk. Whether you opt for a refillable tank or a bag-in-box system will generally be down to personal preference. Bag in box milk dispensers provide a mess free refill option and tend to offer larger capacities. Machines with tanks are quick and easy to refill by simply pouring straight from the bottle or carton and are often being more compact with a smaller capacity.|
As a piece of commercial refrigeration, these machines will have a refrigerated system and so will require power. Electric cold drinks dispensers have low power usage and so have minimal requirements, using only a standard 3 pin plug.
As juice dispensers are typically positioned on a shop floor or as part of a buffet line, noise can be a concern, after all there’s nothing more unwelcoming or off-putting for customers than a loud whirring noise while they’re in a shop or café or trying to enjoy a self-serve breakfast.
As a piece of refrigeration there will be some degree of noise however this usually measures approximately 55dB. Bear in mind that a normal conversation is around 60dB and you soon realise that a chilled drinks dispenser isn’t going to disrupt the ambience in your setting.
Cleanliness of all commercial equipment is vital when being used to serve product for public consumption. Not only are strict cleaning regimes essential for hygiene but also to potentially maximise the life expectancy of equipment, guarantee performance and efficiency and also to produce exquisite results packed with flavour.
The process of cleaning drink dispensing machines is relatively simple and can easily be done at the end of the day when juice is emptied and transferred to alternative storage overnight.
- Remove and soak taps and wipe nozzles.
- Wipe exterior surfaces with water and a mild soap.
- Empty, rinse and wipe the drip tray.
- Wash and sanitise the tanks remembering to thoroughly wipe and dry any residue before refilling.
- Clean vents and remove any dust or debris. This can be done with a cloth or with a vacuum attachment.
Top Tip: After cleaning make sure the seals are refitted properly. If even slightly out of line, your dispenser will leak.
Regular cleaning should be carried out according to manufacturer recommendations or more frequently if required.
There are a number of reputable commercial beverage dispense manufacturers on the market.
A major force in the drink dispenser arena is Promek, leading specialists in cold drink dispense design and manufacture. Promek juice dispensers are available with single, double or triple tanks to accommodate the requirements of every size business.
They also offer the SF models that provide the versatility to dispense both milk and/or juice for a more flexible approach to beverage service. Promek drinks dispensers are supplied with a 2 years parts only warranty as standard however additional labour warranty is available to complete your level of cover.
Delivering durability and the option of single, twin or triple tanks, Interlevin juice dispensers are a popular choice. Supplying a 2 years parts only warranty with optional labour, you can fully tailor your level of cover to meet individual business requirements.
High efficiency, durability and precision performance come as standard with these one, two and three tank dispensers. Suitable for fruit juices, lemonade, iced tea and many other beverages Santos deliver versatile equipment to increase flexibility for any drinks’ menu. Supplied with a 2 years full warranty and a massive 5 years parts only warranty on the motor, Santos drinks dispensers have got you covered.
Valera offer a stylish range of juice dispensers all featuring a magnetic impeller or drive pump. This offers the added benefits of enhanced reliability and low maintenance. Valera also supply a 1 year parts and labour warranty as standard.
Operating effectively and efficiently in ambient temperatures up to 32°C Polar drinks dispensers are ideal for hotter environments. With one, two or three tank options, a great price point and 2 years on site parts and labour warranty, Polar are a popular choice for demanding settings.
Specialising in commercial bottle coolers, vending machines and milk pergals and dispensers, Autonumis lead the way for bag in box (or BIB) solutions and mini-serve equipment. High quality build, simple functionality and a choice of finishes all with a 1 year full parts and labour warranty place this brand at the fore.
Buying a chilled drinks machine outright is an obvious benefit for the many businesses that reap the rewards of beverage equipment all year round, after all they receive maximum return on investment. Some businesses however may only employ the use of juice and milk dispensers at particular points throughout the calendar, whether that’s as a seasonal promotion or for an event. For these companies, outlaying a full upfront cost may be pointless.
Hiring or renting drink dispensing equipment is a great way to reap the rewards over a short period of time without making an all-out investment. Another avenue to consider would be purchasing a refurbished juice dispenser allowing you to enjoy the benefits and advantages of offering freshly chilled juice or milk but without paying full price.
Alternatively, if you already have a drink dispensing machine and you’re experiencing problems or it’s looking a little tired, think about replacing some of the more obvious components. Spare parts such as tanks and drip trays are available allowing you to revamp your old equipment and continue to get the most out of your primary investment.
Commercial chilled drinks dispensers are a great selling tool for a multitude of settings. By making the right buying choice and creating a clean, bright beverage display you can tempt and entice customers while proudly advertising what’s available and boosting sales.