Cold Side

The 86 Repairs Guide to Restaurant Ice Cream Machines

When restaurant ice cream machines break down, they cause expensive messes. Get preventative maintenance ideas and troubleshooting tips in this guide.

Welcome to another 86 Repairs Guide! In this series, we provide valuable troubleshooting, preventative maintenance, and warranty information on the equipment and infrastructure found in your restaurant. We hope this information will help you and your team become more informed about repairs and maintenance (R&M)—and save you time and money along the way.

It’s become a running joke of sorts that the ice cream machines at one of America’s favorite fast food chains are seemingly never in service.

There are websites dedicated to tracking broken machines. Controversial new tech emerged to “hack” ice cream machine issues. The internet even tried recruiting none other than Elon Musk to solve the issue—but even he feels helpless against the task.

Every restaurant with an ice cream machine should take note: with steady preventative maintenance and smarter troubleshooting, more of your customers can get the soft serve they want, when they want it. Keep reading to learn 86 Repairs’ best tips for maintaining these machines.

Table of Contents

What is a restaurant ice cream machine?

Restaurant ice cream machines are one of the most complicated pieces of equipment in a kitchen—you might be surprised to hear it, but it’s true! Creating the soft-serve swirls that many of us crave is not as easy as it looks.

At a very high level, here’s how an ice cream machine works: a container known as a hopper holds the liquefied ice cream mix. That mix is sent into a cylinder that’s kept at very cold temperatures to freeze the liquid.

As the ice cream mix solidifies around the frozen cylinder, an auger—a spiral piece of plastic or metal—moves in constant motion to scrape the ice cream off and push it to the front of the unit for dispensing. A pressurized pump or valve allows the soft serve to be released from the machine.

There are several common restaurant ice cream machine manufacturers, including Carpigiani, SaniServ, and Electro Freeze. But the most common, by far, is Taylor.

Numbers to know about restaurant ice cream machines

86 Repairs tracks all the data related to our customers’ equipment service history and vendor performance so they can access never-before-seen R&M data to make better repair and maintenance decisions —and correctly estimate and track spend.

Given the cultural commentary around broken ice cream machines, you’d think our team would spend most of their time dispatching vendors to repair them. But here’s the reality: since July 2021, only 1% of our service requests were to fix restaurant ice cream machines. 

In fact, restaurant ice cream machines didn’t even rank in the top 10 pieces of equipment or infrastructure in need of repair last year. (You can see what made the list in our annual State of Repairs report.)

So if they aren’t even breaking that often, why do they get so much coverage? Despite the many pieces of equipment in commercial kitchens, ice cream machines can’t catch a break. Joking about broken machines has become such a part of the pop culture conversation that  customers are hyper-aware when they run into the issue. At this point, it’s an industry trope.

Plus, soft serve is a specialty item—depending on your business model, it might be the only food on your menu. So when customers go out of their way for your product, it hurts even more when they can’t get it.

But the truth is, with regular cleaning and attention to detail, restaurants can save money on repairs, avoid unnecessary downtime for ice cream machines, and prevent letting customers down:

  • Our data showed the average invoice cost to dispatch a vendor to repair an ice cream machine was $735.50. 
  • We track the first time fix rate (FTFR) for every vendor we work with so customers can understand if their repairs will be done correctly the first time. For cold side equipment, the FTFR in 2021 was 85.6%.

Let’s take a look at maintenance for ice cream machines.

Maintenance for restaurant ice cream machines

The most important preventative maintenance for restaurant ice cream machines is routine cleaning. But why?

Sugar and protein found in ice cream mixtures create buildup. Over time, that buildup causes different parts of the machine to falter or break. For example, an auger with a lot of buildup will have to work harder to spin, which forces the motor to work harder and potentially cause premature failure.

Even the handle and pump that dispense ice cream collect buildup, leading to clogs. Even if the rest of the machine is working properly, you won’t be able to dispense the product.

But here’s where things get tricky: ice cream machines are very complex, with several small parts that must be aligned perfectly. It can take several hours to thoroughly clean just one restaurant ice cream machine, so make sure you’re accounting for that time as part of your team’s end-of-shift cleaning checklist. 

We can’t stress enough how important it is to clean every single part of the machine thoroughly—and to reassemble it with every item in the perfect place. Just one missing washer or one spot without enough lubricant can cause the entire machine to falter.

If your team is already engaging in routine cleaning for restaurant ice cream machines, be sure to revisit the manual often to ensure no steps are getting skipped. But just how frequently should you be cleaning these units? It's dependent on your ice cream machine manufacturer.

How often should you clean Taylor restaurant ice cream machines?

Taylor ice cream machines have a heat treatment cycle that should be run after every shift. This treatment heats the machine to 150° F to sterilize both the unit and the product inside of it. Heat treatment takes a few hours, so your restaurant should do this late at night.

If you’ve ever had a late-night or early-morning soft-serve craving and found your local ice cream machine was out of service, it’s likely because it was in the middle of a heat treatment cycle!

But the Taylor heat treatment doesn’t replace physical cleaning. We repeat: the heat treatment doesn’t replace physical cleaning. The machines still need to be disassembled for total cleaning biweekly. Unfortunately, the heat treatment cycle makes these machines more complicated—and therefore more difficult to clean. There are about 55 steps involved in cleaning a Taylor restaurant ice cream machine from start to finish; they take about 2 hours to complete.

How often should you clean other manufacturer ice cream machines?

Other ice cream machine manufacturers do not include a heat treatment cycle in their products—which means these pieces of equipment should be cleaned by hand at the end of every day they’re in use. But always be sure to double-check your unit's user manual for any specific instructions around cleaning frequency.

Restaurant ice cream machine troubleshooting tips

Ice cream machine on the fritz? Don’t fret. Consider our top troubleshooting tips for restaurant ice cream machines before you call a vendor for service.

Ice cream not dispensing

Over the last year, this has been the primary issue for 25% of our ice cream machine calls. If your soft serve won’t dispense, it’s highly likely that the machine was incorrectly reassembled after cleaning or has buildup that needs to be removed.

You know what to do from here: take the machine apart, clean it, and reassemble exactly as instructed in your manual.

Ice cream not freezing

This was an issue for our customers about 14% of the time. 

  • If the unit is air cooled, it might be a condenser issue. Check the condenser coil filters to see if there’s too much dust or debris collected that’s preventing the cylinder from freezing. They might need to be cleaned or changed.
    • Find the condenser at the side or rear of the machine behind a vent.
  • The blades of the auger could also be an issue. If the blades are broken or not completely aligned against the barrel, they can't scrape frozen product—the ice cream—off the cylinder.

Restaurant ice cream machine parts replacement

Almost 10% of the ice cream machine calls we took over the past year were to request parts replacement. But many small parts on these machines, like gaskets and O-rings, are very easy to find and fairly universal. 

Before calling a vendor to replace a small part, use your machine model number to find the proper size of items, then seek them out yourself, in-store or online, to save money on a vendor’s labor.

Does a larger part need to be repaired or replaced? Anticipate more downtime, as these parts can be more difficult to find.

Ice cream is leaking

Although only 7% of our service requests for ice cream machines were associated with leaks, this issue can cause a big, sticky mess for your team. But resolving it comes down to cleaning and missing parts.

  • Empty the unit and go through the steps of the cleaning cycle.
  • If the leak is coming from the front of the machine:
    • Replace all of the gaskets in the machine, including the one between the auger and clear door of the machine.
  • If the leak is coming from the dispensing valve:
    • Replace the rubber gasket O-rings on the valve. They were likely too stiff, unlubricated, or old to work properly.

When troubleshooting doesn’t resolve your restaurant ice cream machine issues, it’s time to call in a vendor.

Restaurant ice cream machine warranties

If you have a Taylor machine, note that only Taylor vendors are authorized to work on those units. Call them directly for service—using another vendor will invalidate your warranty.

Carpigiani owners might have some difficulty getting in touch with the manufacturer since the business is headquartered in Italy. Expect some delays in customer service because of the time difference.

No matter which ice cream machine manufacturer you work with, always double-check your warranty before you spend extra money on vendor dispatch—or accidentally invalidate the agreement.

A final note on restaurant ice cream machines

An out-of-service ice cream machine could not only tarnish your brand, but it might also cause prohibitively expensive repairs. Protect your profits—and reputation—with regular preventative maintenance (cleaning, cleaning, cleaning!) and internal troubleshooting.

By taking the time to properly clean and reassemble the machine, along with finding internal solutions to common problems, you have the key to R&M savings.

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