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Fully Automatic Vending Machines...making the right decision for you!

When someone imagines a typical vending machine in their minds eye then most probably the fully automatic version is what springs to mind. They are a classic, typical vending machine that you would see in most public buildings like the gym or airports and service stations. They are also sadly exactly the type that gave vending machines a bad name. Remember when you ordered a coffee but could taste the last person’s order of soup! This is because all drinks were vended from the same spout which gave rise to a great deal of cross drink contamination.

Nowadays drinks vending has changed and the improvement within the drinks vending machine industry has improved dramatically over the last two decades. Today some suppliers even believe that the kind of drinks served from their vending machines are as good if not better than those drinks served in some restaurants. However, the quality of the product depends greatly on the quality of the drink you use to fill the machine. If you put bad quality products in you will have poor quality products out!

Branded vending machines today include some of the biggest global brand names including Nescafe, Kenco, Tetley’s and Cadburys. These are just a handful of some of the brand leaders that are being used in many machines today. Non-branded drinks products can also be used in vending machines and can be just if not more popular than their more familiar namesakes.

What do we mean by fully automatic?

Fully automatic machines are exactly that, you place your cash into the slot, key in a number that relates to the item you wish to purchase and the vending machine does the rest of the work. Products such as tea and coffee are dispensed away from eyeshot where a mixing bowl as it were has the product to which hot water is added. Other condiments such as milk and sugar are added if desired and the entire drink is served within a matter of seconds.

Although many fully automatic machines are coin operated many are not and these work on a free vending basis. Others have car key or tag options set up within the machine to make them a cashless operation. Prices do vary considerably with fully automatic machines and often the additional cost is worth the extra for the improved facilities and drinks quality.

Choosing the right machine for you!

In essence there are three different types of fully automatic machines: Those that dispense hot drinks, those that dispense both hot and still cold drinks and those that dispense hot drinks and fizzy drinks. So it is important to ask first and foremost what you need from your machine. Do you need hot and cold or just one or the other?

Once you have made your decision be aware of the price difference between a hot only machine and one that does both hot and cold drinks of the same quality. The difference is a lot less between those machines which do hot and still and hot and carbonated. In essence if you want a hot and cold drinks machine go for the carbonated version.

Next you need to decide whether you will charge staff for their drinks or not. If the answer is yes then a coin operated machine is necessary. Most coin operated machines accept most coins from 1p all the way up to 20p or more. Coins are immediately replenished within the mechanism if they are dwindling by the money from the next person making it unlikely that you will ever pay more for a product due to lack of change. If you want to subsidise the machine so that staff get a certain number of drinks per day for free then there are a number of methods that can be used.

You can offer tokens (although these can get lost) you can put some machines into free vending mode at certain times of the day. This can be done by activating a simple timing device. Alternatively you can use a tag system which can be issued then put onto a key ring of the employee. Then when the employee goes to the machine the tag can be read by a scanner so it knows to dispense free of charge. This drink is then debited from the tag which has a certain number of credits already programmed into it. The memory of each tag is reset every day so that people do not end up banking hundreds of free drinks whilst away or on sick leave!

Other options include systems where a card is inserted into the machine and a little is cut off or nibbled from each time a drink is dispensed. Each card holds around 20 drinks nibbles and can be renewed every week or month. Someone has to be put in charge of the cash given by staff to buy the card and a secure environment in which to store it is important.

It is also possible to purchase or rent a machine which hands out and validates cards for the actual vending machine itself. This results in employees putting the cards into a special slot and then money is inserted and that sum is then credited to the card. It may seem like a highly sophisticated type of machine but they are proving more and more popular within large companies or those with security issues.

Once the type of machine has been picked with the appropriate paying system it is necessary to decide on the type and style of drinks you are wishing to supply. You can get machines that serve instant tea which is of an okay standard (not one for big traditional tea drinkers though!) Freeze dried tea from some of the big brands does tend to be of better quality such as PG tips. Also you can get machines which use leaf tea which is for many the preferred alternative.

The same can be said of coffee which can be dispensed as both instant or with fresh beans. The downside is the additional cost and of course the increased time it takes the machine to make a drink that is made with fresh ingredients. Such drinks need time to brew as opposed to those which make drinks from freeze dried products.

Whichever type you choose it is always best to assess your employees needs to avoid spending money on machines that there is little or no demand for. After that the options are pretty endless from the basic to the high end, the sky really is the limit!