Soft Serve Machine Buying Guide
All you need to know about choosing the right equipment for your business.
What machine is right for me?
Choosing the right machine can sometimes be a complicated process. We will try to simplify it by answering frequently asked questions and providing key information for making the right decision.
How much is a new machine?
A brand new 2-flavor with a twist (3 handles) machine will cost you between $10k to $18k. The pricing depends on the model and brand. Some higher capacity machines can go for as much as $35k. A brand new single-flavor machine would be around $6k to $10k. Anything that is advertised for less, be cautious about buying. Remember the old saying, you get what you pay for. We’re not implementing that you can’t make a good buy at a lower price, just proceed with caution and do your research. We can help you make the right choice on equipment, whether new or reconditioned. A reconditioned machine can average $9k to $12k. A new starter is around $2.2k. Again, pricing varies by brand, model and age.
Machine Basic terminology
A hopper is the tank(s) located on top of the machine where the liquid mix is poured into. Larger capacity machines have bigger hoppers so refills can be done less frequently. Specification sheets will provide the hopper sizes (example: two 3-gallon hoppers).
This is the round, steel area located below the hopper. In the cylinder is where the liquid mix drips and becomes frozen. Larger capacity machines have bigger cylinders, providing “frozen-ready product”. If you are going to use only one machine and anticipate a line out the door, we would recommend getting a machine with large cylinders.
Beaters or Augers
These are located inside the cylinder and are what beat/mix the product inside. The mixing occurs by the machine scraping the product against the cold cylinder walls to achieve freezing temperatures.
Air Tubes (carburetor)
These are located inside the hopper tanks and serve to manage the flow of yogurt liquid mix from the hopper into the freezing cylinder. They regulate the amount of air within the product mixture.
Used vs. New
RSR, LCC believes that in most cases, the better road to take when considering used vs. new is to buy a good quality, used machine if you can get your hands on the right one. Be sure that you are purchasing from a reputable dealer. Buying from individuals/private sellers can be a risk because most people are only interested in the money and don’t take into consideration what works best for your business and your customers. Frequently, private sellers who are don’t know the ins-and-outs of the machine that they are selling. There is a possibility that they may innocently misrepresent the machine regarding age, electrical requirements, air cooled vs. water cooled, and so forth. At RSR, LLC, we will help walk you through the machine that makes most sense for your business and your budget, making sure that you don’t make an expensive mistake.
Important Electrical Information
110/115 volts vs. 208/230 volts
99% of soft serve machines are 208/230 volt. A standard wall outlet is not capable of providing enough power for these volts. You would be able to purchase a small volume, single-flavor countertop machine that that can use a standard outlet, but it won’t put out much product.
You would essentially be manufacturing ice cream quickly and that requires higher level electrical power than a standard ice cream dipping freezer or blender. This is why an electrician would be required to make sure there is sufficient power and every thing is safe/up to code.
If you find machines on the market that advertise 110 volts with 2-flavors, don’t believe it! We are familiar with these machines and they are not recommended seeing as they are not ideal for commercial use.
60HZ vs 50HZ
All machines manufactured in the USA have an electrical frequency of 60HZ. Machines that are manufactured outside of the USA are typically 50HZ. If you are an International buyer outside of the USA, please make sure your Country uses 60HZ electricity, also known as 60 cycle. If your Country runs on 50HZ, or 50 cycle, you won’t be able to use a machine purchased from the USA. If your Country’s electrical frequency is 60HZ, you are in luck because you can take advantage of our great variety of deals on used machines. If you have any questions or concerns about electrical specifications, please call us before purchasing your machine.
Single-Phase vs. Three-Phase
Any location offers single-phase power (1PH) but not all locations offer three-phase power (3PH). It is common for Commercial locations to have three-phase power. It is uncommon for older buildings to have three-phase power. If you aren’t sure if your location offers single-phase power or three-phase power, please check with your landlord or a certified electrician.
Why do three-phase power machines exist? Because they are less expensive to run as far as electrical usage and run on less amps. If your electrical service is low amps, you might be better off with a three-phase machine. Three-phase won’t make much of a financial difference if you’re running only a couple of machines, but when you’re running several machines, it can help reduce your electric bill.
In certain situations, a customer’s location might not have three-phase power accessible in the electrical box but there may be three-phase power available in the building itself. It may not cost a lot to have an electrician add a three-phase in the breaker box. This may be one situation where you think “I got a great deal on the three-phase machine and it’s only $500 to have the electrician wire 3 phase into our electrical box, so let’s do it!” Please keep in mind that adding a three-phase in the panel is only going to be a low cost deal if there is three-phase coming into the building from the electric pole outside. If the building does not have three-power to begin with, then unfortunately you won’t be able to run a three-phase machine. In this situation, understand that you are limited to single-phase machines.
Air-Cooled vs. Water-Cooled
If you have good ventilation, you can go air-cooled. If ventilation and heat are an issue, water-cooled is a better option for you. If water service is expensive in your area, California State for example, you might be best off hooking the machines up to city water. This enables you to save the water cost on a lower electric bill, less air conditioning. If you have more than 6 machines, there is a water-cooled option called a “glycol system” which might be a good option to consider. It’s not cheap at an approximate installed cost of $15k if purchased brand new, but it protects the machines and keeps your air conditioner from working overtime. The glycol chiller works sort of like a radiator works in a car.
Single Plug vs. Two Plug Outlets
Most machines have a single power cord that only requires a single outlet. Some higher capacity machines have two power cords and will require a two plug outlet. Please refer to the specification sheet to see whether the machine you are considering requires a single plug or a two plug outlet.
Single Flavor vs. Two Flavor with a Twist
Machines either come in one flavor or two flavors with a twist in the middle. A machine that has three handles provides two flavors with a twist in the middle, not 3 separate flavors. Nowadays, there are machines that have 3 actual cylinders, but I suggest you stay away from them considering they are unproven and problematic.
Independent Cylinder Temperature Control vs. One Temperature Control for both Cylinders
The cylinders is where the mix is frozen. The hopper is where you pour the mix in. The liquid mix is added to the hopper and feeds down into the cylinder where it is turned by the beaters and frozen. Most of the inexpensive imported machines have one temperature control for both cylinders. If you are buying new machines and they are “cheap” in comparison to others, chances are you are buying a one temperature control machine for both cylinders. Why is this an issue? Some flavors like to be colder than others. If you have a flavor that likes to be warmer on one side, and one that likes to be colder on the other, the marriage doesn’t work well. The work around is to try and marry two flavors that work well together at the same temperature. Dual cylinder temperature controls will simply make your life a lot easier. Almost all American-made machines feature a dual cylinder control. When inexpensive machines from China hit the market, they did so with single cylinder control machines to help them keep the entry price point lower.
Counter Top Model vs. Floor Model
Floor models are a full-body machine with wheels on the bottom. Counter tops are smaller in length and aren’t on wheels. There is really no difference in cost. I highly recommend you stick to a floor model if you have a choice. They are much easier to deal with since you can move them around easily, therefor they are easier to clean and maintain. Countertop models don’t weigh much less than a floor model meaning once they sit on a counter, it will take multiple people to move it.
Gravity Fed vs. Pressurized Air Pump
The majority of machines out there are gravity fed. Gravity fed machines are named as such because the mix is poured in these tanks (hoppers) on top of the machine and the liquid mix drips into the cylinders below the hoppers where it becomes frozen.
Air pump machines normally have buckets under the cylinders where the liquid mix is fed upward into the cylinders using a pump.
Why choose one vs. another? Gravity fed machines are less expensive than pressurized machines. Gravity fed machines are easier to clean because they don’t have the pump mechanism in them. Pressurized machines are normally larger capacity machines in locations that only have one or two machines. They pump the product out faster. They also pump more air into the product making it a little less dense than gravity fed machines will dispense. Gravity fed machines will yield a little bit “wetter” product with less air in it. Arguably, the wetter product with less air is tastier and is of better quality (denser). But if you want a fluffy, lower food cost product, that is a little firmer, you may want to consider an air pump pressurized machine.
In closing, unless you are going to be offering a lower line ice cream mix, it may be best to stick to a gravity fed machine. You can still make a good looking cone with a gravity fed machine and at the end of the day you will most probably be offering a tastier product. Most Frozen Yogurt stores use gravity fed machines.
USA vs. Imported
The four big USA made machines are Taylor, Stoelting, San Servi, and ElectroFreeze. These companies have been around for a long time and chances are pretty good they will be around for a long time to come. It is tough to match the quality of a USA made machine. They have been improving the technologies over many many years. Imported machines from China are now becoming equal. Some are better than others and some come close to performing as well as a USA machine but I still think they fall a little short. There has been an explosion of soft serve machine manufacturers in China, making it really difficult to tell who is going to be around in the long term in the US. If you want purchase a China made machine, you are best off picking a brand that has been in the USA for at least 5 years and has a solid USA base for parts and service concerns. We know which machines are good bets and which ones aren’t. A new comer Finamac from Brazil has entered the market with some real interesting features.
Frozen Yogurt vs. Ice Cream Machines
There is not much of a difference here. You can use the same machine for either one, it just depends what you want to serve. Whatever liquid mix you pour in the machine is the product you will end up with.
Refrigerated Hoppers vs. Non-refrigerated Hoppers
Older machines don’t have refrigerated hoppers, meaning you need to empty the machines every night. Most newer machines have refrigerated hoppers meaning the mix can be kept inside the machine overnight. This means you only have to empty out the mix when you are cleaning the machine which is about twice a week.
Machines that are operated in the USA should be certified (stickers on the back, and on the specification sheet) by NSF, ETL, or UL Sanitation. If the sticker only states “Certified by CE”, that is a European standard and you might be in trouble when the health inspector shows up. NSF and ETL are relatively safe bets. UL Sanitation should work too, but check with your health department inspector before you purchase anything. If you are opening a store Internationally, you are probably fine with most certifications but it is a good idea to check with your local health department or regulatory institution to make sure you know what certifications will pass locally.
Easy to clean machines. Is there such a thing?
Not really! Some machines have less moving parts than others but they are all a pain to clean. Any sales person that is telling you their machine is easy to clean is not being straight with you. Once you become familiar with breaking a machine down, cleaning, sanitizing, then rebuilding it, you are looking at a minimum of 45 minutes per machine. If you or your employees don’t have the time to do this, then you don’t want to be in the soft serve business.
Please call us at 208-345-5755 or email us at email@example.com. We are here to help you buy the right machine!