Half Moons Cubes & Flakes
Ice comes in many forms.
Which shape is right for you?
by Howard Riell
photography by Steve Skoll
Director James Cameron spent $200 million to illustrate the dangers of ice with his blockbuster movie, Titanic, but restaurant, bar and nightclub operators already know from experience the damage that can be done by the wrong size and shape of ice.
With ice machines grinding out cubed, crushed, shaved, cracked, and chipped ice and such contemporary innovations as half-moons, double-concave, corkscrews, diamonds, flakes and nuggets, operators have a wealth of choices. But they often buy ice machines without considering whether the shape of the ice they choose works with their menu or with the individual drinks they serve. Many purchase ice makers without even consulting their beverage directors.
Savvy operators, however, leave no cube unturned in their quest for quality. They take the time to learn about the relative merits of various shapes–from density and melt rates to surface area, production speed and even blender wear and tear. Which ice machines to take on must be decided only after considering how the ice will complement their drinks and existing equipment and how it will ease the operation’s work load.
Much Ado About Nothing?
“The shape of the cube is as important as the whole concept of ice itself because it has to be congruent with the purpose,” says veteran restaurant consultant Arlene Spiegel, FCSI, president of Hollis-Hills, NY-based Market Discoveries Inc. “If you’re filling up a salad bar you don’t want big chunks of ice; you want small shaved ice that will allow shapes to form around a bain marie or a salad dish. It has to be pliable and able to be sculpted. You don’t want shaved ice in a drink because it’s only going to dilute it. It all has to do with meltability and dilution. There’s a science behind it.”
“I think the shape of the ice is a very important consideration,” says Frank Gargiulo, head bartender at the fashionable Hotel Delmonico in New York. “You take the smaller ice cube for the blended drink, and it will build up the consistency faster. The larger ice cube in the blender will give you a little hassle. Sometimes it even stops the blender short; it will stop the blade.”
“It potentially could be much ado about nothing,” says Bob King, beverage manager for Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, which operates a dozen restaurants as well as foodservice operations at 18 stadiums and two convention centers. “But in terms of a visual quotient, cocktails and beverages in general should have the same intellectual, emotional qualities that a plate of food does. So a visual aspect to a drink is extremely important. Consequently, the shape of the cube and the translucent quality of the cube, I think, are extremely important. Also the density of the cube: how quickly do the cubes melt? What’s their surface level? And how quickly do they begin to interact with the actual drink itself beyond a chilling capacity?”
Russell Greene, director of beverage operations for the 23-unit Cheesecake Factory based in Calabasas Hills, CA, calls the shape of the ice “critical for many reasons. If it’s a blended drink, it’s important how it’s going to blend and how quickly it’s going to blend. If a drink is going to be poured over the ice, the shape of the ice will determine how much liquid will fill the drink. Also the shape of the ice will determine how hard the ice is. If the ice is not hard enough it will melt quicker, and you’ll have a watered down drink.”
“When you’re talking volume, it’s a big deal,” says Michael Waterhouse, beverage director for the Manhattan-based Myriad Restaurant Group, which operates such “fine/casual” concepts as City Wine & Cigar Co., TriBeCa Grill, Nobu, Montrachet and Layla. “It’s a value perception, and that’s what people want. These days when you’re paying $8 for a drink, you want to look like you’re getting something for it.”
Size Does Matter
“It’s not so much the shape, in my experience, but the size which is quite important,” says Christopher Shipley, beverage manager of New York’s historic 21 Club. He’s a proponent of smaller cubes because more can be placed inside a glass. “The smaller size increases the surface area of ice that comes into contact with the liquid, and makes the drink colder and better tasting. When you have the bigger ice cubes the drink tends to be not quite as cold, not quite as concentrated. What you should be doing is filling the glass to the top with ice. When you do that it really cools the drink, especially a drink like a gin and tonic.”
Wherever possible, says King, Levy goes with the half-moon shape. “One, it’s really flexible. It sets up well inside of a cocktail. It’s got a quick chilling capacity because it has so much surface area. And the cube is very dense, so it doesn’t begin to melt quickly. Two, from a strict operational standpoint, it slides well so you can get it into a glass or shaker. It breaks down real quickly if you’re going to freeze something.”
“I’m a big fan of the sliver cube,” admits Waterhouse. “What it does is give a perception of a better pour. You’re actually getting more ice in your glass. They lay on top of each other, so when you actually pour a drink, the perception is that you’re getting quite a bit more.”
With City Wine & Cigar being “more a bar atmosphere,” Waterhouse notes, “I think the ice actually suits it perfectly.” The 160-seat establishment, whose average per-person check is between $40 and $50, serves mostly classic cocktails, whiskeys, ports and wines. The 225-seat TriBeCa Grill, on the other hand, features “a little more of the straightforward cocktails, the rum and Cokes, gin and tonics, spirits on the rocks.”
“When you’re talking about a cocktail, you want a smaller cube or a sliver, especially when you’re making a martini. You can actually have more cubes in the glass when you’re shaking the Martini, so the alcohol is going to surround more cubes and get colder a lot faster. So when you shake it, it’s getting cold very quick, which is important in a Martini; you want it ice cold. Speed is also important–how quickly you can get the drink out. In a situation where you’re really busy, you want to make the drink as good and as quickly as possible.”
David Commer, director of beverage development for Dallas-based Carlson’s Worldwide, parent company for T.G.I. Friday’s, says he uses half-moon-shaped ice in all the company’s 370 domestic and 100+ international restaurants. “We use that shape to develop and execute our drink recipes.” For blender drinks, however, managers are instructed to use crushed ice “because it blends more quickly,” says Commer. “If we were to use the cubes it would eat up the blenders.” Other drinks are made using crushed ice, mainly Friday’s Fruit Juice Flings. “You’re looking for the chilling capacity that crushed ice has.”
There is, Commer maintains, “a science to everything. “We’ve selected the cubes we have for a variety of factors. One is for how they chill the drink, because that’s the purpose of ice, to serve a chilled drink. With the half-moons, you get a larger surface area of ice making contact with the liquid.”
Consistency, however, remains the bottom line. “The big thing is that whatever you use, that you use the same thing from location to location so you have the consistency.” Friday’s menus list 100 drinks, although the chain’s recipe book contains over 600.
Delmonico’s Gargiulo says he likes ice in half-moon shapes, although he doesn’t use it at the hotel. “When you put that half-moon in a highball glass, it fills the glass up, eats up all the space. Let’s say you pour an ounce shot of Scotch or vodka; it makes the glass look half full. A big, square ice cube would make it look half that amount. So there are definite reasons why people use different ice cubes. It looks like you’re giving the customer a lot of vodka or a lot of Scotch.”
The hotel’s D’ Lounge, which seats 40 at eight cocktail tables, uses half cubes. Says Gargiulo, “It’s easier to make my drinks. It blends fast, and it chills the drink faster. I make most of my mixed drinks in blenders. When you put ice in the blender and mix the ingredients it brings the drink up to a consistency of a frozen Margarita-type drink. It’s the only shape I use unless it’s an emergency, and I have no choice but to call the ice man. But otherwise I like the smaller ice cube.”
Cheesecake Factory executives, says Greene, made “a global decision as to which shape we thought would serve all of our purposes,” settling on the half-moon shape. “First of all, it allows the hardness I want. Second of all, it’s not too hard to where I’m having severe blender problems. The shape of it is pretty revolutionary in the sense that it allows the ice to stack up, so you can actually get more ice into the drink.”
Flake ice is “wonderful for blended drinks because it allows much faster production with reduced wear and tear on blenders,” says Greene. “However, you also run the risk of having a watery drink with a flake machine.” The chain’s menu lists 25 frozen drinks, with bartenders prepared to whip up as many as 100 more on request.
Cheesecake Factory is currently experimenting with cubelets, due to its “huge, huge blender volume. We have an unbelievable amount of blended drinks. I don’t think anybody compares to us conceptually in how many we put out. And because of that we have real extreme wear and tear on the blender.” Execs have moved away from shaved ice, Greene explains, “because I was not satisfied with the watered-down final product. Cubelets allow you a jump start on breaking down the ice cube.”
Beverage execs say ice should never be overlooked when searching for ways to increase price/value perceptions, improve quality or better serve customers. Those who do are doing themselves, their guests and their beverages a disservice.
“Ice is huge,” insists Greene. “Ice is the beginning of the drink. It’s the first ingredient you put in.”
“You know, it’s something that I have a real position on,” concludes Levy’s King. “We have made changes in many of our operations to get that specific cube in. It’s something that may be overlooked, but the quality of the beverage starts with the cube.”
Howard Riell is a veteran business writer and long-time contributer to Cheers.
How Much Is Enough?
How does an operator know how much ice will be needed?
When it comes to ice machines, each manufacturer has its own specifications. Hoshizaki America Inc., Peachtree, GA, suggests asking these questions before purchasing a machine.
What is your establishment’s seating capacity?
How many table turns per day?
What days/hours will it be open?
Will ice water be served?
Will ice be used in a salad bar or any other holding area?
Will cocktails be served?
What will the peak periods be?
Hoshizaki also offers these guidelines regarding daily usage:
Restaurants will require 1 to 1.5 lbs. of ice per guest.
Cocktails require 3 lbs. of ice per seat.
Water glasses need 4 ounces of ice per 10-ounce glass.
Salad bars require 30 lbs. of ice per cubic foot.
Catering calls for 1 lb. of ice per person.
A 20% safety factor is recommended to accommodate business growth and peak summer demands. — HR